Learning Lab

Understanding learning: Schemas

By Amy Brann

When we are Coaching people there are times when we want to introduce a new concept to out clients. Introducing new things to people means that their brains have to find a way to understand what is being explained to them. We are going to look here at the science of what is actually going on.

Imagine you look at a house you can see the whole house, the big picture, the overall structure, then inside it you can see lots of rooms with different pieces of furniture, then each piece of furniture is made up of atoms. This is like the structure that makes up schemas. Neurons in the brain work together to communicate messages and form networks, the more they communicate (or fire) the stronger the connection (or wiring). Hence neurons that fire together wire together! When these networks interact they form patterns, just like the arrangement of furniture in a room. Patterns them combine to form schemas. A schema is just an organized unit of information that our brains store.

In order to understand something new we need to slot it in somewhere, we need to find points of reference to comprehend new information. Our schemas enable us to form expectations. For example, when a person comes to a first Coaching session they may have certain expectations, and either is consciously aware of them or not. If they expect to talk about surface level stuff and to be superficially reassured if they are running a poor me pattern and the Coach gives them a good mental shake the one of two things can happen. Either they can become interested or they can become stressed. As a Coach we need to manage how a person is most likely to process new information, as a stressed state is not a good learning or processing state.

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