What can go wrong with the legal student’s prior knowledge? (1)

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Not only students’ insufficient prior knowledge can prevent a legal course from achieving success (see yesterday’s blog). Much more difficult to identify, but at least as powerful, is inaccurate prior students’ knowledge preventing success in legal teaching.

Many of our students come to class with inaccurate ideas about the material to be covered. As a result such flawed ideas, beliefs, models or theories can distort new knowledge by predisposing student to ignore, discount or resist ideas that conflicts with what they believe to be true. We humans strive for internal consistency.

Various circumstances may cause inaccurate prior students’ knowledge. For example a learner’s concept that has a different meaning in daily life than in law. Or a concept that the student may have mastered in one legal discipline which however has a different technical meaning in another legal discipline to be learned. Finally, the previously learned concept may not apply given specific conditions or in a specific context.

Whatever the reason, inaccurate prior student’s knowledge causes students to make inappropriate associations or applying prior knowledge in the wrong contexts. Result: new learning does not take hold correctly. Waste of time, money and frustration is the result.

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