A Review of the Value of Prior Learning in First Year Biology

Gerry Rayner


Differences in the levels of prior learning of biology among commencing university students is a common and potentially problematic issue for students and academics alike. Amongst concerns is the requirement for extra support and/or provision of supplemental learning activities for students lacking biology knowledge. Such students often have lower levels of confidence in terms of academic achievement and generic skills, with consequently higher levels of study anxiety and rates of withdrawal compared to students with prior biology learning. Students with adequate prior biology knowledge generally achieve higher grades for coursework assessments and assignments, for at least a major part of the teaching semester. This review examines issues associated with disparities in the levels of prior knowledge among students entering undergraduate biology subjects. Enrolments in such subjects have increased dramatically over the past two decades, generating increased cultural, socio-economic and demographic-related diversity. The review also investigates best practice in ameliorating problems associated with different levels of prior learning, and discusses these issues in the context of future planning and practise in biology education. Finally, an examination is made of the factors that will likely impact on the future teaching and learning of undergraduate biology, such as the potential of information and communication technologies, the nature of blended learning approaches, and increasing connectedness of student learning.

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