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Transfer of Learning

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

The ability to transfer learning across real-world contexts is critical in a knowledge-driven economy and shifting global landscape. However, transferring newly learned knowledge and skills can be complex. Therefore, the concept of transfer of learning must be integrated into instruction and supported with evidenced-based practices across all course formats.

Transfer of learning, as defined by Perkins and Salomon (1992) occurs “when learning in one context or with one set of materials impacts on performance in another context or with other related materials” (p. 3). Often referenced in the literature are examples of near and far transfer. Near transfer refers to transfer between similar contexts, such as learning a new theory that is applied to practice problems in class, homework, a quiz/exam, or a related context in another course. Far transfer refers to transfer between dissimilar contexts, such as applying the theory beyond the classroom to real-life situations or professionally. Pan and Agarwal (2020) provide a table in Retrieval Practice and Transfer of Learning: Foster Students’ Application of Knowledge referencing near and far transfer (see Table 1). The table provides an excellent overview of near and far transfer across contexts.

Table 1.

Near and Far Transfer (Pan & Agarwal, 2020)

Transfer of learning goes beyond near and far transfer. For example, positive transfer occurs when learning in one context enhances or improves a related performance in a different context. Negative transfer occurs when learning in one context interferes or negatively impacts performance in different context. Low road transfer occurs when the initial learning task and the transfer task are sufficiently similar in context and conditions so there is a high level of automaticity. High road transfer requires being able to identify mindful abstractions and connections from the initial learning task and the transfer task. Other types of transfer include vertical and lateral, literal and figural, and specific and non-specific. Galoyan and Betts (2021) provide a table in the article “Integrative Transfer of Learning Model and Implications for Higher Education” that includes types, models, and taxonomies of transfer with descriptions and foci. The authors also provide an integrative model of transfer of learning for teaching across educational formats.

Table 2

Traditional Models and Taxonomies of Transfer (Goloyan & Betts, 2021)

Figure 1

Integrative Transfer of Learning Model (Goloyan & Betts, 2021)

Three critical challenges for students with transfer of learning include (a) prior knowledge, (b) understanding how to transfer knowledge and skills beyond well-structured problems to ill-structured problems and across real-world contexts, and (c) time to practice transfer. Understanding the prospects and conditions that support transfer of learning is critical in supporting pedagogical practice and lifelong learning.

Resources on Transfer of Learning and Types of Transfer:

As indicated by Yale University’s Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning (n.d.), “Students develop the ability to transfer their learning by practicing transfer" (para. 10). Therefore, integrating transfer of learning into course design and instruction is foundational to the learning process.

Author: Dr. Kristen Betts

Learn more about how INTERACT123 can support your work with transfer of learning.


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