Activate Prior Knowledge

Overall Introduction

In Teaching at its best: a research-based resource for college instructors, Linda Nilson lists key learning principles that have complementary instructional principles. Each month, I will take one of the instructional principles, explore how the principle can be applied in an online setting and provide one or two examples and/or resources.

Activate Prior Knowledge

Very early in the term, give students activities and assignments that make them retrieve, articulate, and organize what they already know (or think they know) about your course material. Then identify any evident misconceptions and address in class how and why they are wrong.”

Nilson, Linda Burzotta. Teaching at its best: a research-based resource for college instructors. 2nd ed. Bolton, MA: Anker Pub. Co., 2003. Print.

Application in Online Learning

Faculty often produce a Week 0 in their learning management system (Moodle, Blackboard, D2L) for housekeeping details like syllabus, schedule, and discussion guidelines etc. In Week 0, or in a separate module, consider including a topic that lists the prerequisite knowledge for the course and where students go to refresh their knowledge or fill in missing gaps. In some rare cases, faculty even include a mini-course that helps students recall or learn critical facts, concepts, principles, and rules.

Another strategy is to author a learning object that checks for understanding. In the learning activity, students are asked to draw from their prior knowledge to answer basic questions, solve problems, categorize information, etc. Learning Management Systems have built-in quiz making tools, but a variety of authoring tools can make this learning activity richer and more useful to the student. Examples of authoring tools include LodeStar, Captivate, and ZebraZapps. The essential purpose behind these learning activities is to provide individualized feedback to students on what facts, concepts, rules, and procedures they are missing and where to get the help they need.


Designing Courses for Significant Learning

Explore Further