According to WordNet 3.0, quoted at TheFreeDictionary.com, in psychology, schema means "an internal representation of the world; an organization of concepts and actions that can be revised by new information about the world".

Within psychology, specifically as applied to learning or education, are there terms to describe schemata at different stages of acceptance, e.g.:

  • schema present in an individual
  • schema currently being added or adjusted by an individual
  • potential "schemata/patterns/ideas" out in the world not yet encountered by the individual

Are there specialized terms to distinguish these?

  • $\begingroup$ I'd suggest. 'The knowable', 'that which is known within reasonable doubt', 'that which is known beyond a shadow of doubt'. I don't know of any single-word terms, unless related to certainty or fallacy... $\endgroup$
    – Leon Conrad
    Feb 3 '14 at 6:45

I don't know of separate terms to differentiate 'schema present in an individual' from 'potential "schemata/patterns/ideas" out in the world not yet encountered by the individual', but with regard to 'schema currently being added or adjusted by an individual', I can at least offer some related terms.

  • Accommodation is the process by which schemata are adjusted most generally.
  • With respect to identity status, which might be considered self-schemata, one's status is classified as in moratorium during periods of active adjustment. I find James Marcia's theory useful often, because it differentiates individuals in terms of two factors:

    1. Whether they have a sense of personal identity
    2. Whether they have attempted to scrutinize and develop their personal identities

    I'm only wary of dichotomizing these factors, which might be better understood as dimensions (I doubt whether anyone is truly at an absolute zero)...but that's slightly tangential, as it's somewhat easier to imagine schemata being completely stable or absent in a meaningfully dichotomous sense.


I'm not able to directly answer your question, but I would suggest you take a look at some of the ideas association with Lev Vygotsky (wikipedia is as good a place to start as any).

Schema theory is a relatively static idea - schemata exist as simplified internal representations of an external reality, and are symbolic, much like the memory of a computer. I'm not sure, for that reason, if there should be any term for your potential "schemata/patterns/ideas" out in the world not yet encountered by the individual, because a schema is nothing more than a representation (although see Plato's theory of forms).

In Vygotskian theory (or cultural-historical psychology), on the other hand, knowledge is seen as something that emerges from the interaction between a person, the people they encounter, and their broader social and cultural environment.

I know I can't do justice to these ideas myself, but I offer them as a starting point to better understand the concepts you're getting at in your question.

Sorry about all the wikipedia links.

A very good starting point is the following book. It should be retrievable quite easily over the Internet.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

  • $\begingroup$ What about schemata others have that I don't as an individual? That was the meaning I understood in the OP. Still, your interpretation may not be any less valid, except in as much as it's a little absurd, as you point out here. No need to apologize for using Wikipedia BTW; I get a lot of mileage out of it myself. Must say I often wish question-askers would do more of the same... $\endgroup$ Apr 7 '14 at 11:03

It may not be possible to answer this question in terms of "schema", simply because of its theoretical underpinnings. Eoin has already pointed out this limitation in his/her answer to this question.

However, concepts for describing both psychic representations of "the world" in the individual and "their potential … out in the world not yet encountered by the individual" (citation of the question) are available in the terminology of Activity Theory (Leont’ev, 1978). Namely, the concepts of personal sense (in the individual) and meaning (potentially reflected by the individual and concretized/found/passed on in the social system/society/culture).

According to Leont’ev (1978), the psychic representation of things, their personal sense, and their meaning are the three formative moments of human consciousness.

Furthermore, Aleksej Nikolaevič Leont’ev was a major exponent of the Cultural-Historical School of Psychology and a student and co-worker of L. S. Vygotsky in Sovjet Russia.


Leont’ev, A. N. (1978). Activity, Consciousness, and Personality. Engelwood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.