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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Schema Sensitivity and the Environmental Context: A Strategy for Effective Communication

David E. M. Bucy.

As educators, whether working in an informal or a formal setting, we are focused on effectively transmitting the information we offer to a potential learner. Using schemas available to a learner as starting points for communication efforts is an effective strategy because it reduces cognitive load while providing the learner a basis for organizing incoming information. Simply put, we can be more effective if we begin where a learner is able to start, and then take that learner to where we want to go. Determining starting points common to a group of learners is not easy because schemas are unique to every individual. This is especially true in an informal learning situation where the audience is typically more heterogeneous than in a classroom, and where you do not have the opportunity to create common starting points.

A tendency exists to think of existing schemas as those already within a learner's mind when he or she enters a potential learning environment. The cultural or natural context in which a person is immersed represents a nascent schema waiting to be clarified and expanded. It enters working memory not from an internal source, but through the initial application of our senses. This presentation will focus on the value of using the visual content afforded by the environmental context as existing schemas for an educational effort, and the importance of taking a story already being told in that environment, whether of environmental change, human impact, history or biology, and interpreting it so the audience can 'see' that story. Doing so will lead to rich, multi-sensory schemas stored in our long-term memory, more accessible and useful as tools for later learning. This session will be useful to anyone using natural and cultural environments for teaching, whether formally through field trips or field schools, or informally through exhibits and other opportunities in such settings as museums, interpretive centers and interpretive sites.


David E. M. Bucy  (United States)

Specialist in communication planning. Eight years on the faculty at Oregon State University teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in environmental education, natural resource communication and environmental interpretation. Twenty years as principal and Senior Planner of Bucy Associates, a firm specializing in communication planning and design. Recently awarded a Presidential Doctoral Research Fellowship to pursue a PhD in communication and informal education at the University of Idaho.

  • Schema Sensitivity
  • Informal Learning
  • Field Trips
  • Effective Communication

(30 min Conference Paper, English)