Teaching for Transfer: Fostering Generalization in Learning

Teaching for Transfer: Fostering Generalization in Learning

Teaching for Transfer: Fostering Generalization in Learning

Teaching for Transfer: Fostering Generalization in Learning


The transfer of learning is universally accepted as the ultimate aim of teaching. Facilitating knowledge transfer has perplexed educators and psychologists over time and across theoretical frameworks; it remains a central issue for today's practitioners and theorists. This volume examines the reasons for past failures and offers a reconceptualization of the notion of knowledge transfer, its problems and limitations, as well as its possibilities.

Leading scholars outline programs of instruction that have effectively produced transfer at a variety of levels from kindergarten to university. They also explore a broad range of issues related to learning transfer including conceptual development, domain-specific knowledge, learning strategies, communities of learners, and disposition. The work of these contributors epitomizes theory-practice integration and enables the reader to review the reciprocal relation between the two that is so essential to good theorizing and effective teaching.


Anthony Marini Randy Genereux University of Calgary

Transfer of learning is widely considered to be a fundamental goal of education. When students cannot perform tasks only slightly different from those learned in class, or when they fail to appropriately apply their classroom learning in settings outside of school, then education is deemed to have failed. Accordingly, educators have for many years been concerned with how best to teach for transfer of learning.

Unfortunately, achieving significant transfer of learning has proven to be a difficult chore. Dating back to the beginning of this century, the research literature on transfer is replete with reports of failure. Thorndike and Woodworth (1901) found little evidence for general transfer of training on estimation and perceptual tasks. Thorndike (1924) discovered, contrary to the popular doctrine of formal discipline, that studying difficult subjects such as Latin and mathematics did not generalize to better performance on other memory and reasoning tasks. Reed, Ernst, and Banerji (1974) observed little transfer of learning from one form of river-crossing problem to another, as did Hayes and Simon (1977) from one version of the tower of Hanoi puzzle to another. Other studies of analogical problem solving have confirmed that students often fail to spontaneously transfer what they have learned about one problem to a structurally similar problem. This is so even when the transfer problem is presented immediately after the training problem (Gick & Holyoak, 1983), even when the solution strategy is clearly explained to students during training (Gick & Holyoak, 1983), and especially when the training and transfer problems differ in surface features (Holyoak & Koh, 1987). Research on classroom learning has similarly found that students . . .

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