Use of external representations in science: Prompting and reinforcing prior knowledge activation

Sandra A.J. Wetzels, Liesbeth Kester, Jeroen J.G. van Merriënboer

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    This chapter outlines a theoretical framework providing insights into the use of low-sophisticated external representations during prior knowledge activation in the science domain. This framework distinguishes representations that prompt (i.e., initiate) prior knowledge activation from representations that reinforce (i.e., facilitate) the activation process. Prompts that consist of pictorial representations (e.g., pictures, animations) will be more suitable than verbal representations to activate structural and causal models important for science learning. Furthermore, external representations may reinforce the activation process. There are limits to the amount of information that can be activated simultaneously because of human’s limited working memory capacity. Self-constructing representations (i.e., note taking) might offload working memory while activating prior knowledge. It is argued that the strength of the prompting and reinforcing effects of external representations during prior knowledge activation is mediated by learners' level of prior knowledge. An empirical study that provides support for the framework is reported.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationUse of Representations in Reasoning and Problem Solving
    Subtitle of host publicationAnalysis and Improvement
    EditorsLieven Verschaffel, Erik de Corte, Ton de Jong, Jan Elen
    Place of PublicationNew York
    Number of pages17
    ISBN (Electronic)9780203847824, 0203847822
    ISBN (Print)9780415556743, 9780415556736
    Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2010

    Publication series

    SeriesNew Perspectives on Learning and Instruction


    • external representations
    • prior knowledge activation
    • prompt
    • reinforcement
    • level of prior knowledge


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