Transfer of Learning

A quick, Sunday post.

“Transfer of learning occurs when learning in one context enhances a related performance in ANOTHER context. “ (David N. Perkins, Harvard Graduate School of Education)

Points:
1. Transfer is not ordinary learning.
Although “learning” as a psychological phenomenon does embed a minimal change (cognitively speaking) it differs from “transfer” in that it does not extend beyond its original context. Example: a student may show certain grammar skills on the English test (ordinary learning) but not in everyday speech (the hoped-for transfer). The student may solve the problems at the end of the chapter (ordinary learning) but not similar problems when they occur mixed with others at the end of the course (the hoped-for transfer).

2. Near versus far transfer.
Near transfer refers to transfer between very similar contexts. Example: in an exam the student solves similar types of problems s/he has previously practiced.
Far transfer implies application of knowledge and skills to problems or domains that seem remote (e.g. math and art, math and architecture etc.).

3. Near transfer is much more likely to happen
Research – Thorndike and Woodworth (1901), Pea and Kurland (1984), Salomon and Perkins (1987) – showed that far transfer is less likely to occur. The examples were quite interesting as many “progressive” and “traditional” educators tend to favor one of the two:
– (traditional) studying Latin disciplines the mind —> zero correlations between learning Latin and having a more “disciplined” approach across other subjects
– (progressive) teaching computer programming develops problem-solving skills—> no effects whatsoever except in the very area of programming

4. Expertise (or excellence) requires local knowledge but it is enhanced by a large non-specialized knowledge base (Ericsson and Smith, 1991). Far transfer is unlikely to happen if situated knowledge is monolithic – that is, if you have knowledge exclusively in your domain (Perkins and Salomon, 1989).

5. Conditions of transfer

So, how do you make transfer possible?

– thorough AND diverse practice (no news, I guess)

– explicit abstraction (and using analogies and metaphors as vehicles for thinking)

complexity and depth ( “low road” transfer is necessary – those semi-automated cognitive responses to similar problems, but we aim for “high road” transfer, that is UNDERSTANDING

“High road transfer, in contrast, depends on mindful abstraction from the context of learning or application and a deliberate search for connections: What is the general pattern? What is needed? What principles might apply? What is known that might help? Such transfer is not in general reflexive. It demands time for exploration and the investment of mental effort. ” (International Encyclopedia of Education, Second Edition, Oxford, England, September 2, 1992)

6. Strategies 

A. “Hugging” (Perkins and Salomon, 1988)

I know it makes you smile (or is it just me?) but it is a strategy in which the teacher directly engages learners in “approximations to the performances desired”.  In other words, it has an experiential aspect. Example: Instead of talking about the decision-making process you can engage students in making decisions, analyzing together the factors that enhanced or impeded the process etc. Instead of talking about the qualities of a good interview, engage students in conducting interviews (with peers, with other people) and discuss the process, the elements that made the interviews effective or not etc.

 The learning experience thus “hugs” the target performance, maximizing likelihood later of automatic low road transfer.

B. Bridging 

“Bridging exploits the high road to transfer. In bridging, the instruction encourages the making of abstractions, searches for possible connections, mindfulness, and metacognition.”

For example, a teacher might ask students to devise an exam strategy based on their past experience, a job counselor might ask students to reflect on their strong points and weak points and make a plan to highlight the former and downplay the latter in an interview. The instruction thus would emphasize deliberate abstract analysis and planning.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

*I’ll probably blog more on this because the issue of transfer overlaps with the issue of understanding. Understanding relies on knowledge but it is not solely knowledge. If it were, our students would be geniuses considering the complexity of the curricula they are exposed to.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: