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Transfer of Learning: Types, Theories, Educational Implications

Transfer of Learning: Types | Theories |Educational Implications

Definition & Meaning 

According to Crow and Crow (1973),

The carry-over habits of thinking, feeling or working, of knowledge or of skills, from one learning area to another usually is referred to as the transfer of training.

According to Sorenson (1948), explains transfer of learning as:

Transfer refers to the transfer of knowledge, training and habits acquired in one situation to another situation.

From above two definitions we can conclude that the term ‘transfer of learning’ refers to a special mechanism or process in which a person’s learning in one situation is carried over or transferred to other situations.

Types of Transfer of Learning

There are three types of transfer of learning

  1. Positive transfer-

    When learning in one situation facilitates learning in another situation, it is known as positive transfer. For example, skills in playing violin facilitate learning to play piano. Knowledge of mathematics facilitates to learn physics in a better way. Driving a scooter facilitates driving a motorbike.

  2. Negative transfer-

    When learning of one task makes the learning of another task harder, it is known as negative transfer. For example, speaking Telugu hinders the learning of Malayalam. Left hand drive vehicles hindering the learning of right hand drive.

  3. Zero transfer-

    When learning of one activity neither facilitates nor hinders the learning of another task, it is a case of neutral transfer. It is also called as Neutral transfer. For example, knowledge of history in no way affects learning of driving a car or a scooter.

Theories of Transfer of Learning

There are 4 important theories which explain transfer of learning. These are known as modern theories-

  1. Theory of Identical Elements-

    This theory has been developed by E.L.Thorndike. According to him most of transfer occurs from one situation to another in which there are most similar or identical elements.

This theory explains that carrying over from one situation to another is roughly proportional to the degree of resemblance in situation, in other words-more the similarity, more the transfer.

The degree of transfer increases as the similarity of elements increase. For example, learning to ride moped is easy after learning to ride a bicycle. Here, transfer is very fast because of identical elements in both vehicles.

Thorndike was convinced that the method used in guiding a pupil’s learning activities had a great effect upon the degree of transferability of his learning.

  1. Theory of Generalization of Experience-

    This theory was developed by Charles Judd. Theory of generalization assumes that what is learnt in task ‘A’ transfers to task ‘B’, because in studying ‘A’, the learner develops a general principle which applies in part or completely in both ‘A’and ‘B’. Experiences, habits, knowledge gained in one situation help us to the extent to which they can be generalized and applied to another situation. Generalization consists of perceiving and understanding what is common to a number of situations. The ability of individuals to generalize knowledge varies with the degree of their intelligence.

  2. Near and Far transfer of learning-

    Near transfer refers to transfer between very similar contexts, whereas, far transfer refers to transfer between contexts that, on appearance, seem remote and alien to one another. Near and far are intuitive notions that resist precise codification. They are useful in broadly characterizing some aspects of transfer but do not imply any strictly defined metric of closeness. This approach is not effective in helping educators or the like to teach. At one time, it was common to talk about transfer of learning in terms of near and far transfer. This “near and far” theory of transfer suggested that some problems and tasks are so nearly alike that transfer of learning occurs easily and naturally. A particular problem or task is studied and practiced to a high level of automaticity. When a nearly similar problem or task is encountered, it is automatically solved with little or no conscious thought. This is called near transfer. A major goal in learning to read is to develop a high level of decoding automaticity. Then your conscious mind can pay attention to the meaning and implications of the material you are reading. A significant fraction of children are able to achieve this by the end of the third grade.

  3. The Low Road/High Road Theory-

    It is developed by Salomon & Perkins, 1988. Low-road transfer refers to developing some knowledge/skill to a high level of automaticity. It requires a great deal of practice in varying settings. Examples of areas where automaticity can be achieved: shoe tying, keyboarding, or steering a car. High-road transfer involves the cognitive understanding and purposeful and conscious analysis, mindfulness and application of strategies that cut across disciplines. In high-road transfer, there is intentional mindful abstraction of an idea that can transfer, and then conscious and intentional application of the idea when faced by a problem where the idea may be useful.

Educational Implications of Transfer of Learning

  • Learning in one situation is capable of exercising positive or negative influence over the learning in another situation.
  • Efforts should be made to seek positive transfer value of the learned thing by avoiding the negative ones.
  • For seeking maximum positive transfer, the teachers while teaching and learners while learning, should try to draw proper lessons from the viewpoints of the theories of transfer like below:
  1. Identification of association, similarities and dissimilarities among the learning situations.
  2. Building generalizations and making their use in further learning.
  • Developing proper understanding and insight for using them in further learning and problem-solving.
  1. Developing a proper apperceptive mass in the form of knowledge and experience for its further use.
  2. Developing proper ideals and imbibing them to perform things in future.

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