Documentation:Learning Principles & Strategies/Knowledge Organization

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Learning Principle

How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know. Ambrose, et al.(2010)[1]

Research Says...

  • Knowledge structures develop to support the context in which knowledge is being used.
  • Experts and novices differ in how their knowledge structures are organized - experts tend to focus on deep features and principles where novice focus more on superficial aspects.Ambrose, et al.(2010)[1]
  • Opportunities to apply learning in multiple contexts fosters more "flexible" thinking. (Gick & Holyoak, 1983)
  • Novices learn and remember more when they can connect in meaningful ways - particularly when there is a clear relationship between pieces of information (Bradshaw and Anderson 1982 in Ambrose, et al.(2010)[1]


  • Creating contexts for knowledge retrieval and application that are based on problem solving and analysis will result in richer knowledge structures being developed.
  • Helping students understand how novices differ from experts in how they organize knowledge may be useful in helping them understand where they may want to build expertise and what sorts of activities and knowledge organizational structures will best support them..
  • Students benefit by giving them (initially) some appropriate organizing structures for what they are learning.
  • Instructors may need to coach students on how to extract relevant principles from what they are reading and aplly those to varied problems and contexts.


Reveal and Enhance Knowledge Organizations

  • Create a concept map that students need to complete to show their knowledge organization on a particular theme.
  • Analyze learning activities to determine the most effective way to organize knowledge relative to the learning involved.
  • Use organizational structures to help students understand the course.
  • Use organizational structures which capture the critical concepts or principles for each class - be specific (ie" three principles for X, how and when to apply these principles, and discussion about their limitations) is more useful than the more generic introduction, key points and recap.
  • Make connections among concepts explicit.
  • Explicitly highlight deep features or principles underlying problems or examples.
  • Monitor students work for problems in the way they organize knowledge to provide direct and relevant feedback.