Prior Knowledge


Prior knowledge refers to the foundational knowledge students have already developed from observation, experience and learning earlier in life. In cognitive theory, prior knowledge is extremely important, as basing new learning on prior knowledge helps students develop schemata around concepts or "big ideas," leading to deep understanding of disciplinary content rather than piecemeal fact memorization. This cognitive organization of ideas allows students to transfer what they have learned to new domains, applying abstract thought to help solve problems in unique situations. It also resembles how experts organize knowledge around a certain subject (e.g., physics).


Bransford, J. et al. (2000). How people learn; Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.