Archive for February, 2016

February 25, 2016

Transfer of Learning: Is There a Solution? (2)

In part 1 of this blog post I provided some reasons as to why transfer is difficult, particularly in mathematics. The use of concrete materials as well as of highly contextualized tasks may increase the probability of short-term comprehension but hinder learning in the future.


  • “Any extraneous detail in the presentation of information tends to distract learners from the relevant content, leading to poorer recall for that material. “ *see the “seductive details effect” (Garner et al., 1989; Harp and Mayer, 1998; De Loache 1991, 1995; DeLoache  and Burns, 1994; Son and Goldstone, 2009)

That can happen if the way you introduce a concept or practice a skill is overly “engaging” (I can think of many examples, starting with “food math” – pizza fractions, gummy bears counting etc., and ending with “pretty” worksheets).

  • “More insidiously, even those concrete details that are integral and relevant to the examples may harm learning by impairing transfer to new situations.” (Clement et al., 1994; Goldstone and Sakamoto, 2003; Kaminski et al., 2008).

This means that the features that may have enabled students to perform an initial task made it difficult for them to transfer the learning to an analogous situation in which the surface details were changed, and to perceive the connection between the two contexts.

This leaves us with an apparent paradox: the very qualities that enable knowledge acquisition (concreteness, familiarity, personal relevance) are detrimental to knowledge transfer and generalization.

February 24, 2016

Transfer of Learning: Is There a Solution? (1)

Following some conversations with George Haines on Twitter, I attempted to embark on a very complicated topic: transfer of learning. The literature is full of unanswered questions and the research is equally equivocal or sparse.

What does “transfer of learning” mean?

The definitions seem to branch out with every paper that I read but, despite this variety, the basic meaning can be resumed to the ability to extend what is learned in one situation to new contexts. The major classification is between:

  • near transfer – when knowledge is applied in a similar situation (e.g. adding in a class math –calculating change in a store)
  • far transfer – application of knowledge or general principles to a more complex or novel situation (e.g. learning about the scientific method –applying its principles in designing and conducting an experiment, testing hypotheses, critiquing other experiments etc.)

Transfer is implied, to some extent, in any new learning otherwise we wouldn’t be able to learn anything new (you can’t really learn, say, how to conjugate verbs unless you have some previous knowledge about verbs).  Yet the ability to transfer information or ideas is not a given. Quite often, information learned in a specific way, or in a particular context, does not transfer to another. For instance, students may very well ace your vocabulary quiz yet fail to use the very same words in their writing. Or they may have very well learned a mathematical fact but do not know how to apply it in a new problem.


February 22, 2016

Myths in Education, or How Bad Teaching Is Encouraged

“Opinions don’t affect facts.

But facts should affect opinions, and do, if you are rational.” (Ricky Gervais)

I thought I would not have to blog about these fads again but it seems they have the strange ability to be reborn every single year and surface in professional development courses as well as in tweets, blog posts, and conversations within the education community. The reasons are different, ranging from ignorance to vested interests, but the effect is the same: poorer teaching. And no, you are not a bad teacher because you used them but you are a less effective one. We need to learn to dissociate our practice (which can have flaws) from our beliefs formed in the background of consistent bad professional development provided by schools.

Let’s see these monsters in their entire splendor:

  1. The Cone of Learning / The Learning Pyramid
  2. Learning Styles
  3. Right-Left Brain
  4. Brain Gym
  5. Brain-Based Learning
  6. Multiple Intelligences

The Learning Pyramid – a complete bogus

Where does it originate? Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience (1946) was an exclusively theoretical model for audio-visual media, it did NOT include any percentages, and Dale himself insisted that the classifications should NOT be regarded as “any sort of hierarchy or rank order”.

Where did the percentages come from? Don’t laugh. They were first published by an employee of Mobil Oil Company in 1967, writing in the magazine Film and Audio-Visual Communications. This employee, D.G. Threichler, provided NO evidence for the figures but the education community accepted the percentages nonetheless.

PicMonkey Collage