How does students’ prior knowledge affect their learning?

how_learning_worksA student’s previous knowledge helps them establish new knowledge. By creating connections to this old material, they are able to build off it and solidify the new content in their minds. However it is important that this foundational knowledge be activated, sufficient, appropriate and accurate. If not, it can actually hinder learning.

So before teaching new material, we should activate the appropriate prior knowledge. This may be prior knowledge may be basic science background or material covered in an earlier class.

“Before we talk about the management of chest pain, can you describe a patient you had in the ER with low risk chest pain and the how you approached the management the management?”

Assessing the accuracy of their prior knowledge can be done through a pre-session quiz. The low-stakes quiz forces them to activate this knowledge (it is for a grade, after all) and allows the student to identify their own gaps in their knowledge.

“In The Room” (Clinical Teaching Pearls)

While working in the Emergency Department, students can be explicitly asked to use information they have already learned. If they are unable to do so correctly, then that can lead to a teaching moment.

“Okay, tell me everything you know about pancreatitis. Now let’s see what fits and what doesn’t in your patient.”

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