Activating prior knowledge

What, Why and How

What it is and why it is important!

What is “prior knowledge” (PK)? It refers to what you already know. 

Why is it so important to activate students’ prior knowledge when introducing new information/new topic? Education research has shown that prior knowledge determines what and how quickly one can learn. By activating prior knowledge (e.g. repeat what was already present in the previous class), you, as a teacher, immediately give students a steppingstone to connect new subject matter to previously learned subject matter. It does not only help students to quickly understand the new information, but also help them to remember new information when it is attached to prior knowledge.

How to activate PK

How can you use learning technology effectively to activate relevant prior knowledge? Here are the suggestions [1]:

Have students take prior knowledge test (e.g. quiz, case-based open question or a problem-solving question) before studying the targeted material. For example a day in advance. The feedback of the test could be an introduction of the subject matter. This way, learner may stimulated to recognize their knowledge gaps and/or have more ideas on the implication of the to-be learnt information. This may help them see the relevance and increase study motivation.

Make a short video or podcast to repeat/review concepts that students need to be able follow the content of the upcoming class. Preferably, combine these with a quiz. You can also do this with concepts that students need to be able to do homework effectively.

Use clear and concise online videos to repeat working methods that students have to automate.

Let students make an inventory of what they already know about the topic to be discussed via a mind map, blog post, online poster, or online bulletin board. Depending on the ‘level’ of the students (novice, advanced, and anything in between), you may consider offering them a structure for a mind map in advance to facilitate students to accomplish such an activity.

Use learning technology to develop advance organisers (structured information at the start of a learning process at a higher level of abstraction, generality, and inclusiveness intended to either activate prior knowledge or give the learner anchor points for new information, among other things; see Ausubel).

Ø  Provide a visual overview of the subject matter through a digital learning environment. You can also use animations, infographics, or online posters.

Ø  Create a short video or podcast. Diana Laurillard once explained that students often listen better to feedback as compared to when they read it (texts on a screen are quickly scanned). This may also be the case for advance organisers.

Ø  Use a video, podcast, virtual reality or 360-degree video to ‘warm up’ the group with a (personal) story that connects to the new material. Ausubel calls this a narrative organiser. For example, imagine a virtual visit to the Anne Frank house or a refugee camp, if you want to discuss these themes.

Of course, this is not an extensive list as there are undoubtedly more examples to be found but hopefully these are useful.


[1] Resource:

Ngày 01/08/2021 - 14:42:33

Prior knowledge, EDU4.0

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