How Does Prior Knowledge Impact Students’ Online Learning Behaviors? Journal Article uri icon



  • This study explored the impact of prior domain knowledge on students’ strategies and use of digital resources during a Web-based learning task. Domain knowledge was measured using pre- and posttests of factual knowledge and knowledge application. Students utilized an age- and topic-relevant collection of 796 Web resources drawn from an existing educational digital library to revise essays that they had written prior to the online learning task. Following essay revision, participants self-reported their strategies for improving their essays. Screen-capture software was used to record all student interactions with Web-based resources and all modifications to their essays. Analyses examined the relationship between different levels of students’ prior knowledge and online learning behaviors, self-reported strategies, and learning outcomes. Findings demonstrated that higher levels of factual prior knowledge were associated with deeper learning and stronger use of digital resources, but that higher levels of deep prior knowledge were associated with less frequent use of online content and fewer deep revisions. These results suggest that factual knowledge can serve as a useful knowledge base during self-directed, online learning tasks, but deeper prior knowledge may lead novice learners to adopt suboptimal processes and behaviors.

publication date

  • October 1, 2011

Full Author List

  • Butcher KR; Sumner T

Other Profiles

Additional Document Info

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  • 1

end page

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