Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The curse of prior knowledge

I Know Already
Here's a really interesting article, written from a museum point of view, but very applicable to KM, called
Prior Knowledge and New Experience

The author, Jeremy Rochelle, is looking at how people absorb new knowledge from museum installations, and makes the point that all learners have prior knowledge already, which may be at odds with the new information. As he says
Prior knowledge can be at odds with the presented material, and consequently, learners will distort presented material. Neglect of prior knowledge can result in the audience learning something opposed to the educator's intentions, no matter how well those intentions are executed in an exhibit, book, or lecture.
People will look at new knowledge, compare it with their prior knowledge, and try to make it fit. If the prior knowledge is wrong or incomplete, the fit may be poor, and the fitting process may be painful. It's often easier to ignore the new knowledge if it conflicts with your prior knowledge. Learners are more likely to construct an interpretation that agrees with prior knowledge, and consequently disagrees with the viewpoint of the teacher. But on the other hand, learning requires prior knowledge, to give you a conceptual basis for fitting in the new knowledge, and everyday prio knowledge provides a huge store of useful metaphors and ideas. Prior knowledge is both a problem, and an enabler.
The author gives us some pointers to how to incorporate new knowledge into prior knowledge
  • Study success, not just failure, and identify how prior knowledge enables success.
  • Use methods that allow observations of students constructing integrated wholes, not just shifting valences on a bipolar scale.
  • Be wary of viewing prior knowledge as an enemy fortresses that is wrong, alternative, or theoretical in character, and instead see prior knowledge as a disorganized collection of building blocks.
  • Expect learning to occur through gradual refinement and restructuring of small component capabilities in a large, distributed system, with increasing coordination.
In addition to this, he mentuions the importance of social discourse and discussing - allowing people to talk through the new knowledge and its implications. What can be rejected by an individual, can be discussed and incorporated by a community. As the author points out
New knowledge does not replace prior knowledge, rather new knowledge re-uses prior knowledge. Re-use is made possible by a process in which prior knowledge is refined, and placed in a more encompassing structure. The more encompassing structure comes in part from the social discourse norms that prevail within a community of practice.

1 comment:

Gerald Meinert said...

HI, Nick,
well connected to Neuroscience and Cognitive Load Theory:

Blog Archive