Archive for February 25th, 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.

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