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acquisition of new declarative knowledge. Typically this would involve
the application of cognitive and metacognitive learning strategies, such as 19
using a previously learned note taking procedure to help learn information
from a textbook.
Principle 3.1: Meaningful Learning Occurs When New Knowledge is connected to
A key cognitive learning principle is that new knowledge is more understandable
and memorable if it can be connected to prior knowledge. This principle provides a
theoretical rationale for the first three types of transfer listed above.
Declarative Knowledge Transferred to Declarative Knowledge
Information processing theory proposes that information that is learned
thoroughly in a meaningful way is more likely to be recalled when it is needed. This
being the case, it should be no surprise that the degree of learning (or meaningfulness) is
an important factor affecting students’ ability to transfer declarative knowledge to
additional situations (Gick and Holyoak, 1987).
When students are first exposed to new information, their understanding is likely
to be incomplete. They may focus only on the surface attributes of the information being
learned without understanding the information in meaningful ways. In this case we would
expect no transfer or possibly even negative transfer to occur. As students gain more
experience with information, they begin to comprehend the relationships between the
new information and previously learned knowledge. The effect is that the new
information gradually becomes more meaningful, and it is more the likely that positive
transfer of the information will occur.
What this implies for you as a teacher is that for declarative knowledge to be
useful to your students, they must learn information in a meaningful way. This means that 20
you must encourage you students to be active learners, and help them to elaborate and
organize the information you present in class. There are a number of techniques to help
students connect new learning to prior knowledge (See Chapters 3 and 7 for examples.)
Analogies and derived structural schemata are two examples of these techniques that are
useful for helping students be able to transfer declarative knowledge. These techniques
are useful because they help students focus on the structural similarities between new and
old knowledge. Encouraging learners to focus on structural similarities is likely to
increase the degree of meaningful learning and, therefore, improve the chances that the
newly learned information will be applicable in some future situation.
Teaching with Analogies. When students are studying the topics of electricity
and electric circuits in general-science classes, they are often invited to compare an
electric circuit to a plumbing system. This is an example of teaching with analogies. Pairs
of situations, objects, or events are analogous if they share some degree of structural
similarity, but on the surface appear dissimilar (Gentner, 1989). Consider the analogy of
electric circuits with plumbing systems. On the surface the two systems are dissimilar
because electrons, wires, batteries, and switches are very different from water, pipes,
tanks, and valves. However the relationships among the various elements of these two
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- Spring '08