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Building knowledge in layers

Also known as spiral learning, building knowledge in layers allows for a concept to be introduced initially without any of the details. The subject is then revisted repeatedly throughout a course, with additional layers of complexity added each time; and each time these are related back to the basics. This allows students to pick up more information with each successive iteration, strengthen their understanding, and expand their skills. In theory this approach of exposing students to a topic, and then revisiting it, allows students to construct their own understanding on a basic framework. This strategy is particularly useful for teaching complex topics. 

Synonyms

learning, Spiral

You will need

Essential

There are no essential resources needed for this learning strategy

Optional but good to have

This strategy can be implemented using a variety of teaching methods and relevant resources. 

Benefits and limitations

Benefits

  • Understanding is reinforced and developed with each successive session
  • There is a logical progression from simple ideas to more complicated ideas
  • Students can apply their knowledge from earlier sessions to later course objectives.

Limitations

  • There may be insufficient time for students to master the basics concepts of a topic before moving on

What do I actually do as an instructor/facilitator?

Preparation / before class

In this case the preparation is in the course and curriculum design. The key is to schedule a number of sessions which revisit the same basic concepts, and build on them to add additional layers of complexity.

Implementation / during class

Sessions are taught by instructors using whichever methods are most appropriate.

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Peer-reviewed publications

Harden, R.M. 1999. What is a spiral curriculum? Medical teacher 21(2): 141-143

Examples and materials

Learning DNA Assembly

Other

Fact sheet on spiral curricula

Similar Methods

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