Information Age Education Blog

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Transfer of Learning

Transfer of learning is the process of a person making use of his or her learned knowledge and skills in new environments and in new problem-solving and task-accomplishing situations. Recently the IAE-pedia document on Transfer of Learning was substantially revised and updated. This IAE Blog entry provides a summary of an important part of the updated IAE-pedia document.

Here are three general categories or types of transfer of learning. This information is useful to teachers and their students.

Type 1: Traditional

Through both informal and formal learning, we gain increased levels of expertise in a very wide range of areas. Some of the knowledge and skills that we gain are later reused-or modified and reused-in dealing with both old and new problems, tasks, and other types of challenges that we encounter in the future.

There are two widely used theories of transfer of learning: Near and Far transfer; and High Road and Low road transfer. The second of these two theories is the more recent one, and it provides a solid foundation for teaching for transfer. For details on these theories see Moursund (2013a) and Perkins and Salomon (1992).

We all know how to learn. There are some general theories about how the brain learns, effective study skills, self-assessment, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and so on. While details vary a great deal from discipline to discipline, these are areas in which considerable transfer of learning between disciplines can occur.

All preservice and inservice teachers have some knowledge about transfer of learning and how to teach for transfer. However, relatively few precollege and college students are explicitly taught about the importance of transfer of learning and how to learn in a manner that enhances and increasestheir own transfer of learning.

Type 2: Teaching Oneself

Learning is a chemical process going on at the cellular level in your brain. In recent years, research in brain science (cognitive neuroscience) has provided us with a substantial amount of new information about how a brain actually learns and uses its knowledge.

For example, we have learned a lot about study skills. We know that multitasking while studying is not conducive to learning for long-term retention and use. We have learned better ways to help special needs students to learn. We have learned that Tellin' Ain't Teachin': The Need for Frequent Processing. We have also learned about metacognition, reflection, and self-assessment-three very important processes for student self-teaching. All of your students can benefit by developing the habits of mind (and the necessary skills) to make routine use of these approaches to Type 2 Transfer of Learning.

You know that there is a large difference between reading the document and integrating its contents into your current knowledge and skills base. This integration process of building on and integrating into previous knowledge is often called constructivism and is an important learning theory.

Type 3: Tools as a Transfer Vehicle

Humans collectively and individually are quite good at creating tools and at learning to make use of these tools. Some tools function at an amplification level by helping a person to do something they already can do, but to do it better. Some tools help a person to move beyond amplification-to do things that are not possible without the tool.

Some tools are quite easy to learn how to use, while others can require many years of education, training, and experience. A relatively young child can easily learn how to look through the lens of a microscope or a telescope, or to make use of a phone, to accomplish seeing and communication tasks that are far beyond the amplification level.

On the other hand, reading, writing, and math can be thought of as tools that take a great deal of time and effort to learn to use effectively. They also move the learner well beyond amplification.

Our educational system is continually faced by the challenges inherent in the steadily growing totality of human knowledge, and in the steadily growing capabilities of tools. What should students learn about how to solve a particular type of problem when historically this problem has been solved using one's brain and "by hand" tools, and now the problem can be solved by computers and computerized tools? See for a brief discussion of math-oriented tools such as the abacus that are very useful both in solving some types of math problems and in learning the underlying math.

What You Can Do

Our current educational system is weak in the area of teaching students about how their brain learns. It also is weak in teaching students how to effectively study the various disciplines they are learning, how to relearn what they have previously learned and forgotten, and how to transfer their learning to multiple discipline areas (Moursund, 2013b). Thus, you can help your students by integrating information about these ideas into each unit that you teach.

References and Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications

You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button. Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.Here are some examples of publications that might interest you.

Calais, Gerald J. (2006). Haskell's Taxonomies of Transfer of Learning: Implications for Classroom Instruction. National Forum of Applied Educational Research Journal. Retrieved 2/14/09:,%20Gerald%20J%20Haskell's%20

Moursund, David (2013a). Transfer of Learning. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 10/30/2013

Moursund, David (2013b). Brain Science. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 10/31/2013 from

Perkins, David N., & Salomon, Gavriel (1992). Transfer of Learning. Retrieved 10/28/2013 from

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