Skip to main content


  • Reference work entry


Frame; Plan; Scheme; Script


The word schema comes from the Greek word “σχήμα” (skhēma), which means shape, or more generally, plan. The plural is “σχήματα” (skhēmata). The term “schema” (plural: schemata [UK], or sometimes schemas [USA]) is used in the sciences of learning and cognition to designate a psychological construct that accounts for the molar forms of human knowledge. A schema represents the generic and abstract knowledge a person has acquired in the course of numerous individual experiences with objects, people, situations, and events. Schemas organize knowledge about specific stimulus domains and guide both the processing of new information and the retrieval of stored information. They can be viewed as structured expectations about people, situations, and events.

Theoretical Background

Some authors have argued (e.g., Neisser 1976) that all human knowledge – everything from knowledge about the form of the letter A to abstract knowledge about astrophysics...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution.

Buying options

USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD   3,400.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Hardcover Book
USD   2,999.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Learn about institutional subscriptions


  • Anderson, R. C. (1984). Some reflections on the acquisition of knowledge. Educational Researcher, 13(9), 5–10.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bartlett, F. C. (1932). Remembering: A study in experimental and social psychology, Cambridge: University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown, A. L. (1979). Theories of memory and the problems of development: Activity, growth, and knowledge. In L. S. Cermak & F. I. M. Craik (Eds.), Levels of processing in human memory (pp. 225–258). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bühler, K. (1918). Die geistige Entwicklung des Kindes. Jena: Verlag Gustav Fischer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eckblad, G. (1981). Scheme theory. A conceptual framework for cognitive-motivational processes. London: Academic.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kant, I. (1781/1929) Critique of pure reason. Trans. N. K. Smith. New York: St. Martin's Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mandler, J. M. (1984). Stories, scripts, and scenes: Aspects of schema theory. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Neisser, U. (1976). Cognition and reality. San Francisco: Freeman.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rumelhart, D. E., Smolensky, P., McClelland, J. L., & Hinton, G. E. (1986). Schemata and sequential thought processes in PDP models. In J. L. McClelland, D. E. Rumelhart, & The PDP research group (Eds.), Parallel distributed processing. Explorations in the microstructure of cognition (Psychological and biological models, Vol. 2, pp. 7–57). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Selz, O. (1913). Über die Gesetze des geordneten Denkverlaufes. Eine experimentelle Untersuchung. Stuttgart: Speemann.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Norbert M. Seel .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2012 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC

About this entry

Cite this entry

Seel, N.M. (2012). Schema(s). In: Seel, N.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer, Boston, MA.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Boston, MA

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-4419-1427-9

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-4419-1428-6

  • eBook Packages: Humanities, Social Sciences and Law

Publish with us

Policies and ethics