What is a knowledge hierarchy?

 
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Definition
 

According to Robert Gagné (1985), a knowledge hierarchy is a ranked list of all knowledge, and, therefore, of all intellectual skills and all learning, which progresses from the simplest to the most complex: associations and chains, which are prerequisites for discriminations, which are prerequisites for concepts, which are prerequisites for rules and generalizations, which are prerequisites for higher-order rules.

Discussion
 

Gagné believed that

 
  • it is important for anyone teaching people to present all the necessary lower-level facts before proceeding to teach at higher levels of the knowledge hierarchy, and
  • people can reason with higher-level concepts if they have learned all the prerequisite lower-level information.
 
Example:

Here is an example of Gagné's theory that higher-level types of information cannot be understood or learned until all the appropriate lower-level knowledge has been mastered:

  • To do a math problem in percent (a higher-order rule requiring a series of processes), one must know the following:

    • A rule: the formula for calculating percent
    • A concept: the concept of percent
    • Discriminations: the differences between addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and their uses
    • Associations: basic math facts, such as addition facts, subtraction facts, multiplication and division tables, and the basic numbering system
 

Conditions within the learner and conditions within the learning situation vary with each of these categories and greatly affect results. As new material is processed by a learner, new memory structures are acquired. These new structures are what enable learners to retain and transfer information.

 

In later years, Gagné placed less importance on hierarchical ranking and more on the importance of prior knowledge.

 
See:

Schema theory of learning

 

However, he used the hierarchical model to point out the important fact that higher-level types of information cannot be understood or learned until all the appropriate lower-level knowledge has been mastered.

See also
 
 

See the following portions of online books for more information:

 

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