Instructional Science

, Volume 45, Issue 3, pp 377–394 | Cite as

Is having more prerequisite knowledge better for learning from productive failure?

  • Pee Li Leslie Toh
  • Manu KapurEmail author
Original Research


A critical assumption made in Kapur’s (Instr Sci 40:651–672, 2012) productive failure design is that students have the necessary prerequisite knowledge resources to generate and explore solutions to problems before learning the targeted concept. Through two quasi-experimental studies, we interrogated this assumption in the context of learning a multilevel biological concept of monohybrid inheritance. In the first study, students were either provided or not provided with prerequisite micro-level knowledge prior to the generation phase. Findings suggested that students do not necessarily have adequate prior knowledge resources, especially those at the micro-level, to generate representations and solution methods for a multilevel concept such as monohybrid inheritance. The second study examined how this prerequisite knowledge provision influenced how much students learned from the subsequent instruction. Although the prerequisite knowledge provision helped students generate and explore the biological phenomenon at the micro- and macro-levels, the provision seemingly did not confer further learning advantage to these students. Instead, they had learning gains similar to those without the provision, and further reported lower lesson engagement and greater mental effort during the subsequent instruction.


Productive failure Prior knowledge Multilevel scientific concepts Monohybrid inheritance 



The research was funded by a Ministry of Education (Singapore) Grant to the second author through the Office of Education Research of the National Institute of Education of Singapore. The authors would like to thank the principal, teachers and students for their support and participation.

Supplementary material

11251_2016_9402_MOESM1_ESM.doc (423 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 510 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Institute of EducationSingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.ETHZurichSwitzerland

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