Ever since I learned complex concepts, I noticed a trend. Whenever my grasp of the basics was solid, or I could relate the new information to already known concepts, my learning and retention were much better. It always imagined that the brain is a type of data grid where new concepts have to be linked to already present ones in order to be remembered. Perhaps that is not a perfect analogy but it does a good job to get an intuitive understanding of how we learn.
This study shows that concepts should be introduced to students in a way that they have a good grasp and familiarity with those concepts before trying to combine them into more complex informational structures. source
“…if we know exactly how our brain uses prior knowledge, we could try to address that knowledge more selectively before we start learning new information. For example, you could consider how the new information is related to what you already know.” source
Implications for education systems
The above studies should be a clear indicator for how education ought to be designed. In my personal experience, I’ve noticed that the best universities apply this concept in their Mathetics. For example, in the several online courses, I took from Stanford the professors always put great emphasis in the relation between concepts and reality. That’s why I probably learned more in those courses than at any other University.