Transfer

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Application of a skill learned in one situation to a different but similar situation.

In psychology, the effect of having learned one activity on an individual's execution of other activities. Positive transfer occurs when a previously acquired skill enhances one's performance of a new one. Negative transfer occurs when the previously acquired skill impairs one's attempt to master the new one.

Knowledge, skills, and attitudes (generically called knowledge components) learned in one setting will be recalled accurately, and will be used in some other context at some time in the future.

For example, if during algebra equation instruction students saw problems like the following 3x + 10 = 20, 4x/3 + 4 = 16, 2/(-5x) = 14, further problems in this format, like 4x + 15 = 30, 5 + 2x/7 = 29, -3/4x = 17, would be considered part of a normal post-test or near transfer. Examples of far (or farther) transfer items might be:

1) a procedural format with more difficult problems that have additional features (e.g., 2x - 7 = -5x + 9, 4/(6x) – 7 = 32).

2) a conceptual format assessing knowledge of features (e.g., State whether each of the following is the same as 3 – 4x: a. 3 + 4x b. 3 + (-4x) c. 4x – 3 d. 4x + 3).

See the Julie Booth's study page for more elaboration on this particular example.

A couple of many references on transfer:

  • Barnett, S. M. & Ceci, S. J. (2002). When and where do we apply what we learn? A taxonomy for far transfer. Psychological Bulletin, 128(4), 612–637.
  • Singley, K., & Anderson, J. R. (1989). The transfer of cognitive skill. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.