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Prior knowledge

Prior knowledge ist what you already know about a subject before starting to study for it, and is a key factor in successful learning. Before getting started, ask yourself what you already know about a specific topic. Advanced learning is always based on what you have previously learned, and it is considerably easier to learn new things if you can make connections to things you already know. How good are you at making connections between new information and things you have learned before? Brushing up on your prior knowledge will help you recognize the gaps between what you already know and what you need to learn.


Here is a technique you can try to activate prior knowledge:


is a simple, frequently used technique to collect ideas or thoughts on a specific topic. The important thing is to write everything down, without judgement, and in no particular order.

Here’s how it works:

  • Take a sheet of paper and write the topic on it.
  • Determine how long you want to think out the topic (without distraction).
  • Now note down any words or phrases that occur to you on the topic, without getting hung up on any specific word.
  • Continue until you have completed the pre-determined time period. If you get struck, try walking around the room or moving around. Physical exercise also activates the mind, and soon you'll be able to think of new words and phrases.

With this page of words and phrases, you have now collected your prior knowledge on the subject in question, which is a good start before attending the first class. Now have another look at the course contents. How confident do you feel about what you know on the subject? Do you know enough to be able to participate actively in class, or do you need to brush up some more before class starts, e.g. by reading up on the topic?