Author: Kristel Jalak, educator-consutant, DevelopDesign®

In his book A Short History of the Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson gives an example of the explanation of the M-theory of quantum physics to the so-called common man, “The exyrotic process begins in the indefinitely distant past with a pair of flat empty brains arranged in parallel in a curved five-dimensional space. The two brains that make up the walls of the fifth dimension may have jumped out of non-existence as quantum fluctuations in the more distant past, and then began to move away from each other.“ (B. Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything).

Did you understand? Did you memorize it? Unless you are a fan of quantum physics you probably didn’t. It is difficult to remember things you don’t understand. In order to understand you need a framework, a theoretical foundation on which new knowledge can be attached. 

An effective learning process consists of 3 – 4 stages (since the intermediate stages can be viewed either in combination or separately). The learner:

  1. Recalls his or her prior knowledge and experience in this field; defines the framework – the background system on which to attach new knowledge/skills. 
  1. – 3. Works through new theoretical knowledge or skills, places them in the corresponding background system. Applies new knowledge or skills in practice, uses it to solve tasks.
  2. Consolidates new knowledge or skill, plans the use of it in the future.

Talking to adult educators, it turns out that there are no problems with stages 2 and 3. Teachers focus on imparting new knowledge and solving tasks based on it. However, there is no time for the first and the fourth stages. The volume of a lesson is limited, the learning outcomes given in the curriculum are beyond reason, which is why the recollection of the past and planning of the future seem less important than teaching a new subject.

In reality, the opposite is true. If we try to build a house of new knowledge on a weak, rickety and hastily laid foundation, it is likely to collapse. If not immediately in the same lesson, then in a few days for sure.

So, what to do? Read more at our Toolkit (click here). The full version of the learning material offers suggestions and methods on how an educator can help the learner establish strong links with prior knowledge.