12 August 2010

Common Schema

  1. A diagrammatic representation; an outline or model
  2. Psychology. A pattern imposed on complex reality or experience to assist in explaining it, mediate perception, or guide response.
Sometimes I think that we educational designers too readily assume common schema (in the psych sense) between us and learners, and across learners. We assume our instructional models will fit into most learners' psychological schema. It can happen in general terms, such as in the assumptions of a dominant culture, or specific terms, such as the way knowledge is gained in a domain.

Brains activate schemata (connect dots) in isolation from each other because no two people have identical experiences. I'm not saying we don't interact cognitively, rather, what we do is use language as a proxy for what we believe is thinking alike, and thinking together. The social learning camp, (e.g., Vygotsky, Wenger, Bandera) believe there is no such thing as thinking without other people and thus language. Makes sense to me on those terms. But there are lots of non-linguistic examples of thinking; music and art are comprised of their own symbol systems (e.g., in music, notes and rhythms; in art color and form). Cubism came after the painted cubes.

I realize as designers we have to make assumptions and decisions. Yet, the more complex the technological systems we use are, the more abstract(ed) these assumptions become, so that the end-user is left interacting with layers of assumptions about every imaginable concept and principle comprising the system. What if MS Office had been invented by a Chinese woman?