Priming New Topics for Learners

January 23, 2023

Incorporate activities and course design to prime your students for success! 

Priming New Topics

Priming your students to learn new information is a foundational step in their process of taking in new topics. Our brains make sense of the multitude of sensory information we experience in a given moment and the retrieval of information in our long-term memories through cognitive schemas. For example, as I write this post, I hear children yelling and laughing. This would be bewildering if my mental schemas for these sounds didn’t include the concept of proximity to schoolyards and my memory that I live by a school. In short, schemas are maps that link information to quickly make meaningful sense of our experience. 

Another example is if you read the words “red,” “sweet,” “round,” and “fruit,” you might think of “apple.” These mental associations are part of your schema of “apple.”

Your students bring years of education, both formal and informal, to your course. While you cannot control the experiences that shape their mental schemas, you can impact how they might apply them in your course. In this formal education setting, set them up for success by making the connections they will have to make between their existing schemas and the new topics you are introducing them to.

Below are three strategies for you to think intentionally about as you design your online course.

Three Priming Strategies

1. Pre-exposure

Pre-exposing your learners to information they need to master creates the pathways for them to recall that information.

  • Provide knowledge check quizzes consisting of two to three multiple-choice questions before they view the lecture material or interact with the course activities. This will introduce the topics, and it can precisely identify the topics they need to master.
    • Bonus: Have the same quizzes appear at the end of a section of material so they can check whether they have mastered the material or not.
  • Display a description of the course, including the course learning objectives early and prominently in the course.
  • Embed brief videos of yourself introducing the key concepts in a module.

2. Activating prior knowledge

Since your students bring a host of prior knowledge to your course, use that to their benefit by providing opportunities for them to be cognizant about connecting prior knowledge to new knowledge.

  • Ask reflective questions that prompt them to reflect on their experience or previous knowledge and force them to make reasonable inferences about how that previous information will be helpful to them in the course.
  • Have students submit work that requires them to write out everything they already know about a particular topic.

3. Retrieval practice

Have students intentionally recall prior information so they can actively work with it. The subtle but distinct difference between this and activating prior knowledge is that they must do something with the retrieval of this prior knowledge.

  • Provide a prompt or scenario and have students list what they must know to work with the prompt. For example: if a biology professor gives a prompt about three types of water conservation techniques learners are expected to explain, what must students already know so they can accomplish that task?
  • Reflection work on an activity or assignment that requires learners to identify what they did, how it went or how it worked, and what they might do differently next time.

Upcoming Events

Thursday, January 26th

Quick Hits: Intro to Kaltura

Join this Quick Hits session for a demonstration of the basics of Kaltura. You will learn how to upload videos to your Kaltura account, how to edit the details of a video, and how to embed a Kaltura video into Canvas. 

Facilitated by Gray Jackson, Learning Technology Specialist. 

A Zoom link will be emailed to registered participants at least 24 – 48 hours before the day of the event. This session will be recorded, and all registered participants will receive a link to the recording. Contact James Butler with any questions about this session. 

Clemson Online Spring 2023 Events Calendar

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Figure 1 – Click here for the full Clemson Online Events Calendar.

Review our Spring 2023 Events Calendar to see what Online Instruction Development opportunities await!

We have a robust Spring semester lineup of topics and live training formats to support your use of Canvas and other e-learning tools. Topics cover demonstrations of using Kaltura, presentations on inclusive practices for online education, and workshops to get your Canvas site ready to teach!

Click the image (Figure 1) to reach our full calendar, and click on any training title for details and registration.

All of our live training is recorded. Registrants will automatically receive a link to that day’s video after it has been processed.

Contact James Butler with any questions about these sessions.

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