Monday, March 6, 2017

Learning and Transfer

I have been reading about learning and transfer recently. There are many good articles that sum it up. This one from Wikipedia is one that does the job well.

Learning and transfer: implications for educational practice[edit]

A modern view of transfer in the context of educational practice shows little need to distinguish between the general and specific paradigms, recognizing the role of both identical elements and metacognition. In this view, the work of Bransford,[5] Brown and Cocking (1999) identified four key characteristics of learning as applied to transfer. They are:
  1. The necessity of initial learning;
  2. The importance of abstract and contextual knowledge;
  3. The conception of learning as an active and dynamic process; and
  4. The notion that all learning is transfer.
First, the necessity of initial learning for transfer specifies that mere exposure or memorization is not learning; there must be understanding. Learning as understanding takes time, such that expertise with deep, organized knowledge improves transfer. Teaching that emphasizes how to use knowledge or that improves motivation should enhance transfer.
Second, while knowledge anchored in context is important for initial learning, it is also inflexible without some level of abstraction that goes beyond the context. Practices to improve transfer include having students specify connections across multiple contexts or having them develop general solutions and strategies that would apply beyond a single-context case.
Third, learning should be considered an active and dynamic process, not a static product. Instead of one-shot tests that follow learning tasks, students can improve transfer by engaging in assessments that extend beyond current abilities. Improving transfer in this way requires instructor prompts to assist students – such as dynamic assessments – or student development of metacognitive skills without prompting.
Finally, the fourth characteristic defines all learning as transfer. New learning builds on previous learning, which implies that teachers can facilitate transfer by activating what students know and by making their thinking visible. This includes addressing student misconceptions and recognizing cultural behaviors that students bring to learning situations.
A student-learning centered view of transfer embodies these four characteristics. With this conception, teachers can help students transfer learning not just between contexts in academics, but also to common home, work, or community environments.

Enhancing transfer between school and every day life[edit]

The National Research Council (2000)[6] states that the ultimate goal of transfer is for students to generalize the knowledge they have learned in school to practical environments such as home, community, and workplace. In order to promote transfer to non-school environments, NRC (2000) has provided guidelines for educators to better understand the needed skills for students to succeed in said environments.
  • Collaboration: Various studies have proven that much work outside of school is done in groups. Students need exposure to this type of collaborative work in order to better transfer knowledge to non-classroom environments.
  • Use of tools: Many school tasks require the use of the student mind whereas many non-classroom tasks allow and require the use of relevant tools. Increased student exposure to functional and relevant tools, such as technology, will only enhance transfer in the non-classroom setting.
  • Contextualized Reasoning: Abstract reasoning is primarily reinforced in school, for example the use of mathematical formulas. In settings outside of school, such as the grocery store, people often use contextualized reasoning to solve various problems. Many adults are able to choose either context-based or abstract-based reasoning to cater to their specific need. The implementation of strategies for both types of reasoning will provide students with the opportunity to develop both equally and use both interchangeably outside of the school environment.[7]

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI): designing for transfer with technology[edit]

Technology has been successfully used to increase the degree with which learners effectively utilize skills and knowledge gained through class in the real world. This interaction of learners with computers and other technology has altered the landscape of education by reducing the need for paper based educational artifacts, altering curriculum, and introducing a plethora of innovations that allow for key simulations and virtual experiences in the learning environment. Examples of curriculum shifts related to HCI include the change from penmanship towards word processing and computer languages being allowed to be substituted as foreign language requirements.
Instructors that properly implement HCI simulations and animation in the learning environment create a learning state that reflects actual situations in which the knowledge or skill will likely be used in. This transfer using HCI techniques has been shown to effectively increase transmission for both scientific and technology knowledge. HCI also allows for group based learning as opposed to teacher based learning through interactive and individualized technologies including: blogs, wikis, social networks, video casts, and virtual worlds such as Second Life. These various aspects of HCI allow for unique learning experiences to be undertaken that highlight different learning styles and cultural perspectives helping to increase transfer (Erikson 2012; Choi 2007).
Transfer is increased when learners see the potential transfer implications of what they are learning. Properly designed HCI interfaces promote visual thinking that leads to more successful transfer as well. The field of Instructional Design will be an area primarily focused on design principles and the implications on successful blending of HCI to optimize transfer. The learner base that benefits the most from transfer enhanced HCI implementations consists of digital natives to these concepts and expertise. The instructors however are often first generation computer users with limited prior knowledge. Often this makes it difficult to incorporate HCI into improved conditions for transfer within the new world learning environments. While these “digital immigrants” struggle to successfully incorporate technology into areas such as transfer, it is possible to overcome with proper goal setting, assessments, peer support, and instructor support (Joo 2011; Rosen 2009; Rodgers 2007; Eriksson 2012; Choi 2007).


In a review of research on motivation and transfer, Pugh and Bergin (2006)[8] concluded that motivational factors can influence transfer, although the research is limited and not wholly consistent. They found that mastery goals were more consistently linked to transfer success than were performance goals. They also found that interest was related to transfer success when this interest was associated with the learning content. However, when the interest was related to peripheral things, such as seductive details in text, it inhibited transfer success. In addition, they found evidence that transfer success was positively related to self-efficacy. Finally, the reviewers proposed that the transfer process is affected by the presence of an explicit goal of achieving transfer. Pugh and Bergin (2006)[8] predicted that motivational factors influence transfer in three ways. First, they can influence the quality of initial learning in ways that support transfer. Second, they can influence the initiation of transfer attempts, particularly in situations where individuals have an opportunity to apply learning but are not required to. Third, motivational factors can influence individuals’ persistence when engaged in transfer tasks.

Adults with Intellectual Disability[edit]

In 2001, research was conducted by Choi, Meeuwsen, French, Sherrill, and McCabe (2001) [9] that examined whether or not adults with a diagnosis of profound intellectual disability could transfer a learned motor skill from the learning environment to a generalized environment. The purpose of this study was to test whether the participants could transfer the skill learned from throwing beanbags to throwing horseshoes. This study concluded that the adults were able to transfer an under armed throwing skill from the learning environment to the generalized environment.

Transfer taxonomies[edit]

The following table presents different types of transfer, as adapted from Schunk (2004).[10]
Overlap between situations, original and transfer contexts are similar.
Little overlap between situations, original and transfer settings are dissimilar.
What is learned in one context enhances learning in a different setting.[11]
What is learned in one context hinders or delays learning in a different setting.[11]
Knowledge of a previous topic is essential to acquire new knowledge.[12]
Knowledge of a previous topic is not essential but helpful to learn a new topic.[12]
Intact knowledge transfers to new task.
Use some aspect of general knowledge to think or learn about a problem.
Low Road
Transfer of well-established skills in almost automatic fashion.
High Road
Transfer involves abstraction so conscious formulations of connections between contexts.
High Road/Forward Reaching
Abstracting situations from a learning context to a potential transfer context.
High Road/Backward Reaching
Abstracting in the transfer context features of a previous situation where new skills and knowledge were learned.
Positive Transfer: Transfer of learning or training is said to be positive when the learning or training carried out in one situation proves helpful to learning in another situation. Examples of such transfer are:
  • The knowledge and skills related to school mathematics help in the learning of statistical computation;
  • The knowledge and skills acquired in terms of addition and subtraction in mathematics in school may help a child in the acquisition of knowledge and skills regarding multiplication and division;
  • Learning to play badminton may help an individual to play ping pong (Table Tennis) and lawn tennis.
Near transfer is the direct application level of learning that involves a higher level of cognitive processing (Hung, 2013).
According to Hung (2013), far transfer presents challenges for students due to the decrease in the degree of similarity and pragmatic relevance between the forms of original knowledge and target far transfer knowledge, the unfamiliarity of the target context, or a higher number of variables involved. “Far transfer also requires more modification of the original knowledge than near transfer to adapt to the target transfer condition” (Hung, 2013, p. 29).
Obstacles in Transfer of Learning Several factors may impact the transfer process. This can include the manner in which the learning process is facilitated and the environment in which the learning experience is occurring.

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