Schema Theory in eLearning: Passage to Your Learners Mind


Regardless of which instructional design model is your favorite, implementing schema theory in eLearning is vital. Understanding how your learners grasp the training is an art and a science as well. Reading your employees’ minds is an invaluable skill you should acquire being a manager/employer. This skillfulness should be in every manager’s repertoire, as it helps them anticipate what their employees are expecting from their training. You’ll also get to know the pain points of their learning process and thus create and design training course from their perspective. You’ll eventually know what your learners think about any particular assignment/certification and how they can gain mastery in it. This further helps you in articulating training materials that exactly address their queries/doubts, irrespective of the fact that your LMS is a self-explanatory platform.

Just consider what you could do if you could harness this skill and apply it to optimize your employees’ eLearning experience. Unlike facts which are way more consistent, an individual’s thought process is purely subjective and changes as per the experience. Schema theory in eLearning can help you greatly in making your overall corporate learning endeavor a success. Linguists, psycholinguists, cognitive psychologists etc. have been leveraging schemata ever since its inception in 1932 so as to understand the synergy of key factors affecting the learning process.

How schema theory is used in cognitive learning?

Here is a scenario for your understanding –

Have you ever come across anyone having an elephant’s memory? Have you watched any TV show about someone who would exceptionally memorize sequences of numbers? May be this story from National Geographic can inspire you, where an incredible autistic artist from Britain draws the Mexico City by only using his photographic memory.

What an astounding memory this artist has, isn’t it?  Have you ever any chance attended any workshop that claims to improve your memory like remembering people’s names or any routine things?

If you’ve attended this kind of workshop then you’re more likely aware of the schema theory in eLearning or the cognitive learning concept. Simply put, the catch is to associate the learning items with visual cues. I had attended a similar mini-workshop a few years ago. The facilitator had asked us to envision a palace. We were asked to imagine each item we needed to memorize in a different room of that palace. Amazingly, the visual cues worked pretty well. I still remembered the full sequence months later.

This is schema theory in a nutshell. 

Here is an excerpt on its definition –

“Schemata can represent knowledge at all levels – from ideologies and cultural truths to knowledge about the meaning of a particular word, to knowledge about what patterns of excitations are associated with what letters of the alphabet. We have schemata to represent all levels of our experience, at all levels of abstraction. Finally, our schemata are our knowledge. All of our generic knowledge is embedded in schemata.”

Importance of schema theory in eLearning

sigma theory in elearning visual


When your employees have enrolled in your online training program to enhance their skills and know-how, the first hurdle that hinder them from obtaining uninterrupted insight is their knowledge structure. It is limited, nit-picking, less organized and is far from an expert’s mind. The schemata of an expert, is rather more complex and meticulous. This is why thought leaders like Jeff Bezos, Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai and Tim Cook to name a few are considered to be the greatest problem solvers of this era.

The downside of a beginner’s knowledge structure? It is not organized and the person is clueless how to leverage his intelligence to gain the most out of the training. Never approach any expert for suggestions as experts are not necessarily the best teachers always. Since they know too much about something and their skills and minds are futuristic, they might confuse you.

You can overcome the predicament of helping your employees learn effortlessly by introducing schema theory in eLearning software. When your Learning Management System service provider is designing your online training platform, sit with them and discuss how to create the course that fits well with your learners’ mental framework. This is important as employees can only enhance their skills based on what they already know. Your eLearning framework should be analogical.

How to use schema in your online training program

I find myself opposed to the view of knowledge as a passive copy of reality.” ~ Jean Piaget

Originally, schema theory was postulated by the psychologist Frederic Bartlett back in 1932. It was however popularized by Jean Piaget through his theory of cognitive development in the 50s. as per him,

“A schema can be defined as a set of linked mental representations of the world, which we use both to understand and to respond to situations. The assumption is that we store these mental representations and apply them when needed.”

If we go by this concept the we store our memories in the form of schema, which create knowledge structures which we need to access, process, understand, and remember information. When we receive any new information, our brain immediately tries to relate it to the pre-existing knowledge. It also tries to detect a conflict between the newly acquired knowledge and the existing concepts we’re already aware of. Our schema kind of evaluates both sets of data. In summarize, schema is a collection of information that we store in our memory banks for later use.

Organizations should promote cognitive learning in their LMS structures. If your eLearning experience is able to strengthen your employees’ schematic bonds then possibilities are more for improving retention through increased efficiency and optimal satisfaction.

5 valuable tips for using schemata in your training course 
  1. Add pre-assessments in your training course

One of the major aspects of the schemata is understanding things that learners already know. Hence, before kick-starting the learning program, you should assess your eLearning audience so as to determine their existing knowledge and current cognitions. The pre-assessment can serve as “advance organizers”, which gives your employees a preview of what they are going to learn from the course. This diagnostic assessment step enables their brain to start relating with the saved concepts in their long-term memory. This helps them grasp the new information in a jiffy. It’s like making room for the fresh knowledge. Hence, it’s crucial to focus on a specific topic/area you believe your employees have experience when you’re creating the pre-assessments.

  1. Creating meaningful connections

A successful LMS platform enables the learners to easily create real world associations. Their training journey is personal and relatable. Design your courseware in such a way that your employees can relate the training with their practical scenarios. For instance, if your LMS features a safety online training course then you can ask your learners to put their training into practical use such as preventing a fire breakout in the kitchen. Your eLearning audience will quickly memorize the personal safety standards they uphold and the safety measures that your organization is enforcing.

  1. Encouraging collaborative learning activities

Most of your online learners are experienced professionals who bring to the table their discernment and considerable years of experience when they enroll into your eLearning course. As I had earlier mentioned, at times their mental schemata not be helpful. Through collaborative eLearning activities, they can see things from a different perspective, which puts their current cognitions into question. Hence, it is okay to ask them to reconsider their existing schemata. You can shoot thought-provoking questions to help them revise their existing mental framework. However, you should ensure this exercise is just appropriate and doesn’t culturally offend anyone.

  1. Use branching scenarios and eLearning simulations

Building a successful eLearning experience requires patience and meaningful insight. The goal is to allowing your employees learn as per their convenience and strengthen their mental framework to boost their efficiency level. You can help them by introducing branching scenarios and eLearning simulations that enable them to expand knowledge on real world benefits in a safe environment. They can improvise on their existing schemata and explore new problem-solving approaches. This step is emotional-centric, where brain responds to emotional stimuli. The information the learners gather during such activities is going to stick with them because they will remember things that are meaningful and relevant to them.

  1. Allow your employees to train at their own pace

Last but not the least, this is one of the most vital tips to consider when initiating any LMS platform. You cannot simply expect your workforce to obtain skills overnight. These days, employees especially the millennial workers come with a different mindset. They need space and convenience to work and also to undertake training. They expect their supervisors to allow them to proceed at their own pace and explore the ideas at length before moving onto the next module. Therefore, a self-paced learning approach is usually the best solution. This also pertains to the stages of cognitive development. As per Jean Piaget, intelligence is all about “readiness” and mental maturity. Your employees must be mentally prepared to move to the next level instead of rushing them to complete their certification/course.

To conclude…

While the schemata concept was originally postulated for kids and adolescents, its principles can be applied for people from all age groups and all walks of life. You can make use of these valuable tips and implement schema theory in eLearning journey. It will definitely elevate your employees’ learning experience as it’s ideal for your multigenerational online learners.

You can contact us here to make your eLearning initiative truly effective. And if you are still exploring the LMS solutions then you are at right place. We can give you a free demo today to help you understand how you can effectively augment your training program.


  • Haya Namrouqua
    Good piece of article! Yes, u're right. Adult learners

    > need to know the benefits of learning (why they have to learn something);
    > like to learn experientially;
    > approach learning as problem-solving;
    > learn better where they can see the immediate value and application of content;
    and > prefer to study at a time, place and pace convenient for them

    Exploring your e-learning articles. reply

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