Prior Knowledge

Prior Knowledge

Students' prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.

Wouldn’t it be great if every student arrived with just the right level of prior knowledge, all at the forefront of their mind, with no misconceptions to get in the way? But, you probably know from experience, this doesn’t often happen. Students are not blank slates and every student comes armed with a lifetime of prior knowledge, beliefs and attitudes. They use these to filter and interpret what they are learning. So it’s important that we get the foundations right, in order to build new learning.

PRIOR KNOWLEDGE
HELPS LEARNING
WHEN...
I bring a lifetime of prior knowledge, beliefs and attitudes with me...
IT'S ACTIVATED
Learning is more ‘sticky’ when students can relate it to something they already know. Don’t rely on students to make these connections themselves — you need to help activate their relevant prior knowledge.
IT'S SUFFICIENT
Make sure that students have an appropriate starting point. Just because a student can answer a theoretical question about a topic, don't assume they also have the prior knowledge needed to apply it in an appropriate time and context.
IT'S ACCURATE
Check that students' prior knowledge is accurate. Inaccurate prior knowledge can cause a barrier to learning. As students unsuccessfully try to ‘stick’ new learning to flawed beliefs or inaccurate mental models, there is a tendency to ignore or reject the new knowledge, rather than change or adapt their existing beliefs.
IT'S APPROPRIATE
Check that students are applying knowledge that is appropriate to the current context. Make it clear to students when it’s appropriate to use their prior knowledge and when it’s not.

Click on the items below to explore the key foundations.