June 19, 2004


In one of the Forum postings for Session 3, Chris wrote:
In the session 3 reading we come across the question "what is the organization of the learners knowledge?"
Can you explain how a learner organizes knowledge?
Is organizing the same as information processing?

I'm not sure which reading Chris is referring to here, but I thought I'd better give an in-depth response, since this is a question-and-a-half ;)

When talking about learning theories, "organization of knowledge" refers to the ways in which information and knowledge are stored within the individual learner's memory.

Without getting into an in-depth discussion about brain theory (!), we can simply say that information is stored in either long- or short-term memory. Within long-term memory, information is organized into different types of structures, such as:

  • semantic memory (e.g., networks of connected ideas and relationships, frames of reference, principles and rules, paradigms, theories, models, etc.)
  • Stories and analogies
  • Procedural memory (e.g., knowing how to ride a bike, play an instrument, etc.)
  • Pictures and images

As teachers and trainers, our goal is to help learners take in new information and anchor it in a meaningful way within long-term memory -- in other words, to help them learn and create knowledge. Of course, our ultimate goal is to have them be able to retrieve and apply this knowledge when appropriate. (Just how best to do all this is the question at the heart of all the different learning theories.)

In a learning sequence such as Gagne's nine events, the focus is on stimulating the mental processes that promote learning -- having the learner create and elaborate on relationships between new concepts and existing concepts. In constructivist approaches, instructors tailor their teaching strategies to students' unique context and encourage them to analyze, interpret, and predict information -- requiring an understanding of the mental models that students use and the assumptions that underlie them.

In both of these approaches, it's important for the instructional designer to have an understanding of how a learner's knowledge is organized and the types of relationships between ideas that already exist in the learner's mind in order to design appropriate learning interactions.

You've probably had the experience of explaining a concept to a student in a number of different ways before the student has the "Aha! moment" and finally seems to grasp the concept... In other words, you finally found a way to help the learner see a relationship between the new concept and one that is already meaningful.

However, in much of online learning (particularly in self-instructional courses), you generally don't have the opportunity to interact with the learner in this way and to keep trying new ways of presenting the concept until you hit on one that's meaningful...

Materials such as Flash demonstrations, HTML pages, case studies, videos, etc., are all prepared in advance of the student's interaction with them, so you have to know something about the target audience's entry-level knowledge and how that knowledge is organized before you develop them -- hence the importance of identifying the primary audience's key characteristics during the Analysis phase of development.

How's that for a transition into next week's discussion of the Analysis phase of the ADDIE model! Posted by jotz at June 19, 2004 10:19 PM


This helps explain an observation a friend of mine once made. She said, "it might take you time to understand a new concept, but when you get it you really get it.

Posted by: Chris Davis at June 23, 2004 02:24 PM