The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows.
— , Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View
When we encounter new information, our brains instantly try to make sense of it by relating it to what is already stored in memory. So our existing knowledge and mental models have a significant impact on how we learn. Learning occurs by associating new information with concepts already in the mind. Research has shown that prior knowledge on a particular topic helps people remember new information relating to that topic. This phenomenon is related to the concept of chunking , which describes the discrete units of information which can be held in working memory . Prior knowledge enables people to create more complex chunks and maintain them in working memory.
… knowledge does much more than just help students hone their thinking skills: It actually makes learning easier. Knowledge is not only cumulative, it grows exponentially. Those with a rich base of factual knowledge find it easier to learn more—the rich get richer.
— Daniel Willingham DW Daniel Willingham , American Educator via aft.org
Building up a base of knowledge and gaining expertise allows people to recognize patterns and better understand problems. People beyond a certain age begin to experience cognitive decline. Their expertise and stock of knowledge can help them continue to perform as well or better than less experienced individuals at certain tasks.
That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest.
— , unpublished