Automation is the ability to perform a task with very low levels of conscious attention. The automation effect occurs when learners, who have previously acquired automation of sub-tasks used in applied contexts of information, learn more effectively than those who have not previously acquired automation of the sub-tasks.

As learners acquire schemas, they increasingly have the ability to recall knowledge and perform procedures.

Novices need to use high levels of conscious attention to recall and apply their developing schemas.  The cognitive resources allocated to implementing non-automated schemas are not available to be applied to activities of learning new information.

Learners who have attained mastery of schemas, and automated them, may recall and apply them using low levels of conscious attention.  These learners will retain availability of the majority of their cognitive resources for the task of learning new information.


Low level schemas that are commonly used in the performance of higher order schemas should be isolated and practiced to the point of mastery.

Only once mastery is attained on the low level schemas are learners presented with situations applying them in higher order contexts of new information.

Instructional Design: 

Low level schemas which are often used in higher order contexts should be isolated and learned to the point of mastery before introducing higher order contexts of information.

Low level schemas will become automated through drill and practice of often repeated routines.

Example 1: The alphabet - sounds of each letter

The letters of the alphabet need to be recognised on sight and the sound associated with each letter needs to be recalled on demand as prerequisites to reading.


Example 2: Mathematical times tables

The times tables need to be recalled on demand as prerequisites to arithmetic


Example 3: Interpretation of the Periodic Table

Given access to the periodic table, learners need to be able to determine the atomic weight and valency for any given element as a prerequite to balancing chemical equations.


Example 4: Actors Lines for a Play

Actors need to be able to recite their lines before doing a "dress rehearsal" involving interactions with other actors.


Example 5: Practice of Musical Scales

For any musical instrument, a learner needs to be able to execute a set of scales in various keys before being able to perform spontaneously with other musicians in those keys.



Cooper G; Sweller J, 1987, 'Effects of Schema Acquisition and Rule Automation on Mathematical Problem-Solving Transfer', Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 79, no. 4, pp. 347 - 362

Kotovsky, K. Hayes, J. R., & Simon, H. A. (1985). Why are some problems hard? Evidence from Tower of Hanoi. Cognitive Psychology , 17 , 248 - 294.

Schneider, W., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1977). Controlled and automatic human information processing: I. detection,search and attention. Psychological Review , 84 , 1 -66.

Shiffrin, R. M., & Schneider, W. (1977). Controlled and automatic human information processing: II.perceptual learning, automatic attending, and a general theory. Psychological Review , 84 , 127 - 190.