Approaches: What is prior knowledge?

Approaches in adult LN (5)

Using prior knowledge

What is it?

In a nutshell, it’s the knowledge, experiences, beliefs, and attitudes you bring to any new learning or teaching.

Can we dig a little deeper?

Prior knowledge, also sometimes called prior learning, is the knowledge that someone has before they meet new information.

Every one of your adult learners comes into your teaching environment knowing certain things. Sometimes this is through experience. Sometimes this is through other learning or training.

Using prior knowledge means that you do something to find out what people already know (or do). Often the best way to do this is to ask questions or encourage discussion about the new content or skill.

How does this approach contribute to a learner-centred teaching environment?

This contributes to a learner-centred teaching environment because it allows you as the tutor to step back from focusing on what you know, to focusing on what your learners might know.

One learner-centred strategy could be that you guide your learners through a discussion about the new content in a way that is more meaningful to them, rather than lecturing them over the top of a set of powerpoint slides. Learners will often listen to other learners with useful experiences more actively than the would to your explanations.

This gives you some useful diagnostic information, but more importantly it allows your learners to connect what is being learned to what they already know in some way.

Another way that it contributes to a learner-centred teaching approach is that it’s part of the process of  training them to be independent, lifelong learners.

You can improve your learners’ understanding of new content by activating their prior knowledge before dealing with the new information.

In fact, it would seem that for adults, learning progresses mainly from prior knowledge. And only secondarily from the materials that we present to students. Think about that for a minute…

  1. Do you take the time to slow down and ask your learners what they already know about the content?
  2. What are some specific questions you could ask your group to get some discussion happening before you teach next?

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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