Knowledge acquisition

Piaget's theory has long been the basis for the development of the learning process. Higher cognitive functions, such as logical and deductive thinking, differentiation gradually developed in adolescence. In this theory, the development of thinking is seen as an increasingly rational process. The emotional system hardly has a place in Piaget's theory. The problem with Piaget's theory is that it greatly overestimates the possibilities for rational, logical thinking. The development of thinking improves not only because higher cognitive functions become more differentiated, but above all because it allows one to exclude many alternatives. The emotional system plays an important role in connection with experiences. Not by consciously placing all the pros and cons in a logical context and weighing them against each other, but on the basis of feeling. This does not make thinking much more rational, but it does become much more effective. A certain alternative or solution feels better than another.

Prior knowledge

Prior knowledge is the orientation basis on which knowledge transfer and the formation of new knowledge and skills rest. However, prior knowledge can never serve as a learning environment. Constructivists like to make a comparison with a construction site where students acquire their own building materials and instruments to build bodies of knowledge. However, students are not on a construction site, but in a learning place where masters not only give them the assignments to work on, but also provide them with the right materials and teach them how to use them. The developmental phase in which students find themselves does not yet allow them to independently form meaningful bodies of knowledge. They need not only the help but also the guidance of adults. Prior knowledge and metacognition are very important for learning. Prior knowledge is the foundation on which students build bodies of knowledge. To continue with the constructivists' workshop metaphor: a student brings his own tools to the workshop. The quality of that tool is largely genetically determined. Some students have better tools than others. For example, they are better able to retrieve knowledge at a relational level, while other students store the stored knowledge more in separate compartments. They have more difficulty than the first group in seeing connections between bodies of knowledge. This means that they have to allocate more working memory capacity to the basic level of the task they are working on. For example, in arithmetic they make less use of skills such as estimating and evaluating the probability of their answer. 

They are also unable to recognize the relationship between presentations when information is presented in different ways. They get confused because they think that different presentations contain different information. A teacher is needed to show how to approach the material and how to best use their tools (cognitive abilities). By allowing the students to practice a lot, they gain new knowledge and skills. The material provided by the teacher must be composed in such a way that students can make optimal use of the possibilities of their mental tools. The teacher transfers the new knowledge and skills to the student. The student uses his tools to properly store and master that knowledge and skills. He learns to use his tools by handling them and not by being taught about them explicitly, at a meta level. Prior knowledge must be used to build further knowledge. But education must ensure that students receive sufficient prior knowledge to become involved and interested in the subject. Teachers must be aware that for many students, prior knowledge is completely lacking, has been lost due to lack of repetition, or is based on naive or incorrect concepts. If you then take the students' prior knowledge or frame of reference as the basis for education, a group of students will immediately become demotivated. There are students who have some prior knowledge but do not remember exactly how it worked. They also quickly drop out. But the most difficult group are the students who enthusiastically work on their prior knowledge only to discover after some time that they were incorrect concepts.


An example is a third grade of HAVO (school of higher general secondary education) who are working on the First World War in history. The teacher begins by asking, “What time are we talking about here?” Glassy looks. “Come on, we're working on the 20th century.” Finger. “2001.” “No, that's in the 21st century.” Here and there is some buzzing and chuckling. “Okay, open your book to the page… So on. The eyes remain glassy and the buzz continues. In the parallel class he starts differently. He reads a passage from “Goodbye to all that” by Robert Graves and shows an excerpt from “Nothing new in the West”. To his question: “How could this happen, do you think?” The opinions roll over each other.

Being involved with information

Recent social science research shows that what people learn at a given moment and store in their memory for a long time depends on how involved they are with that information and how important they find it. In that context, it is remarkable that older people who attended secondary education in the 1950s or 1960s can still recite the German case sequences almost flawlessly. Were they very invested in that knowledge? I do not think so. Was it important to them? No! But the moment the German teacher made them important, that attitude changed and the lists were fixed for life. Our self subconsciously determines where we focus our attention. The self is driven not only by internal but also by external factors. There is an opportunity for the teacher to ensure the transfer of knowledge in such a way that his students attach the most importance to the information he provides at the right time. He is the leader in the group and that gives him an advantage, from an evolutionary perspective. The leader in a group determines the emotional mood and determines what is important. Of course, this does not mean that a student should not give his opinion. On the contrary, the teacher's commitment ensures that he knows that it is important for adolescents to express their opinions and test them against those of others. The position that the teacher takes ensures that the discussion takes place within certain frameworks and that safety and task orientation are maintained.