Distinguishing Two Types of Prior Knowledge That Support Novice Learners

AbstractPrior knowledge has long been recognized as an important predictor of learning, yet the term prior knowledge is often applied to related but distinct constructs. We define a specific form of prior knowledge, ancillary knowledge, as knowledge of concepts and skills that enable learners to gain the most from a target lesson. Ancillary knowledge is not prior knowledge of the lesson’s target concepts and skills, and may even fall outside the domain of the lesson. Nevertheless, ancillary knowledge affects learning of the lesson, e.g., lower ancillary knowledge can hinder performance on lesson-related tasks. We measured ancillary knowledge, prior knowledge of the domain, and controlled for general ability, and found that (a) stronger ancillary knowledge and general ability predicted better performance on transfer tasks, but (b) prior knowledge of the domain did not. This research suggests that enhancing instruction by remediating gaps in ancillary knowledge may improve learning in introductory-level courses.

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