Activate prior knowledge

Strategies you can use as an author or facilitator to support learners in activating their knowledge (and improve learning).

Caitlin Foran avatar
Written by Caitlin Foran
Updated over a week ago

Each section of your course should include (often in the first few pages of a section) some attempt to help learners access and connect to prior knowledge.

Engaging prior knowledge facilitates learning by creating mental hooks and frameworks. This helps learners to recall and use concepts by giving them something to hang new knowledge on. In our article on Course design principles from cognitive science, activating prior knowledge relates primarily to Help with storage and organisation.

Learners, at all ages and stages, bring beliefs and life and academic experiences to learning. These beliefs and experiences influence what and how they learn. The focus of this article is on how course authors can incorporate strategies to elicit prior knowledge.ย 

We're so keen on activating prior knowledge, that as we came up with more and more variation what started as one article, quickly grew into a whole load of ideas!
So, below are links to articles for a handful of strategies, each with a range of variations and further ideas to turn the strategy into a social activity.

Concept maps - Reveal the structure of learners' schema.

What I KNOW, THINK I know and WANT to know charts - Help learners set their own learning goals.

Image prompts - Use visual decoding to help learners make associations and recall concepts.

Simple story prompts - Help make concepts sticky by connecting it to simple stories.

Brainstorms - Help showcase the range of concepts within a topic.

Remember, learners are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with the knowledge. They have valuable knowledge and experiences to contribute. Acknowledging (and using) what they bring to the table engages and motivates learners. And helping learners make connections from known to unknown really supports their learning and retention. So, for each topic, try to include at least one of the strategies above.

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