Relevant prior knowledge moderates the effect of elaboration during small group discussion on academic achievement

Floris M. Van Blankenstein, Diana H. J. M. Dolmans*, Cees P. M. Van der Vleuten, Henk G. Schmidt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

19 Citations (Web of Science)


This study set out to test whether relevant prior knowledge would moderate a positive effect on academic achievement of elaboration during small-group discussion. In a 2 x 2 experimental design, 66 undergraduate students observed a video showing a small-group problem-based discussion about thunder and lightning. In the video, a teacher asked questions to the observing participants. Participants either elaborated by responding to these questions, or did not elaborate, but completed a distraction task after each question. They received either relevant or irrelevant prior knowledge before the discussion. After the discussion, all participants studied a text about thunder and lighting and completed immediate and delayed-recall tests for this text. Elaboration had no main effect on recall, but there was a significant interaction effect between relevant prior knowledge and elaboration. The results suggest that elaboration is helpful for students with more prior knowledge, but harmful for students with less prior knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)729-744
JournalInstructional Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013


  • Collaborative learning
  • Discussion
  • Elaboration
  • Explanation
  • Prior knowledge
  • Problem-based learning
  • Small group learning

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