Pre Entry Knowledge

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What They Don't Know Can Hurt Them: The Role of Prior Knowledge in Learning

01/31/2007 11:56 AM

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What They Don't Know Can Hurt Them: The Role of Prior Knowledge in Learning
Marilla Svinicki, University of Texas Admit it. You've watched the broadcasts of the Olympics and had your eyes glaze over while Dick Button waxed rhapsodic about the difference between a double axle and a triple lutz. They looked pretty much the same to you, didn't they? You were experiencing what many students face every day in our classrooms, a distressing lack of the prior knowledge necessary to help them understand or appreciate a new experience or content. Current research on learning has offered more and more evidence for the extent to which new learning is determined by what the learner already knows about the topic or related topics. The effect can be either positive or negative, positive if the pre-existing knowledge is correct and consistent with the new information or negative if it is full of misconceptions or conflicts with the new information.

Prior knowledge & current learning
Prior knowledge affects how the learner perceives new information. This phenomenon is readily demonstrated by a simple experiment. What is the first image that you associate with the word "cardinal"? Some people think immediately of football, some of baseball, birds, Roman Catholic priests, or the color red. In the absence of a context, the association you make will depend on your prior knowledge. Your interpretation of this new information, the word "cardinal," was…...

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