Archive for February 24th, 2016

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.

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