Problem Solving, Transfer, and Thinking
Scott W. VanderStoep
Colleen M. Seifert
University of Michigan
The essence of a critical thinker is not simply the acquisition of knowledge, but the application of knowledge across time and circumstance. Many studies have shown that students often have difficulty abstracting a principle from examples, encoding information into flexible memory representations, and accessing the appropriate principle in new problem contexts. How can we help learners maximize potential use of what they have learned?
This chapter reviews literature in cognitive and educational psychology on problem solving, transfer, and critical thinking. In the first section, we review research on schema induction and analogical transfer. We review factors found to affect people's ability to solve problems by analogy. In the second section, we examine the extent to which certain cognitive skills are domain-general, and can therefore be applied in many different contexts. In the third section, we present an overview of three experiments that attempt to facilitate learning and transfer in a problem-solving context. We see these experiments as one way to illustrate the instructional implications of the research on problem solving and transfer. Although the studies were conducted in the laboratory, we think the results have implications for instruction. We