The Definition Of Transfer In Learning

The definition of transfer in learning is the practice of applying knowledge or meaning from a familiar context to an unfamiliar context.

In “Clarifying Transfer And How It Impacts What We Think Students Understand,” Grant Wiggins discussed the requirements of transfer in learning.

“Students are typically required to make four different cognitive moves to transfer learning successfully: 1) independently realize what the question is asking and think about which answers/approaches make sense here; 2) infer the most relevant prior learning from plausible alternatives; 3) try out an approach, making adjustments as needed given the context or wording; and 4) adapt their answer, perhaps, in the face of a somewhat novel or odd setting (e.g. if the unit of analysis demands rounding or simplifying the result, though this is not needed in these two examples.)

So, ‘content’ can involve merely acquisition goals or both acquisition and transfer goals. It all depends upon our goals for learning that content. And vice versa: just because students are asked to do a complex performance does not mean that any real transfer is demanded. If the task is completely scripted by a teacher – say, memorizing a poem, performing a Chopin Prelude that one has practiced many times, with coaching, or writing a formulaic 5-paragraph essay – then there is no transfer of learning taking place. Transfer only is demanded and elicited when there is some element of novelty in the task and thus strategic thought and judgment is required by the performer.

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