The goal of learning is transfer or application of knowledge to a unique context Part 1

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Learning has little value if the knowledge obtained doesn’t become useful for the student later in life.  Although the belief that children are empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge isn’t quite the reality of most educators today, some believe that they are being pushed in that direction with standardized testing.  Unfortunately, this attitude of teaching to attain knowledge, and stopping there, doesn’t benefit students very much.  Alternatively, by focusing on teaching “transfer of learning”, teachers could give students much more than knowledge.

With a goal of teaching only knowledge, the result is students who can only recall and perhaps plug in information in previously seen scenarios.  However, when students are able to utilize information or experiences to solve new and unique problems, knowledge has a much greater usefulness.  When facing a new problem, students feel prepared with an arsenal of tools and knowledge to solve it – rather than feeling stuck.  However, this ability or “transfer of learning” is also a skill that must be coaxed out of students and practiced.

What are some examples of “transfer of learning” and how might a teacher go about practicing this with her students?

Near Transfer Simple or short transfers of concepts from one situation to another similar situation may include using essay-writing skills learned in English class for writing an essay for a history class.  Students may also find equations used in geometry useful for calculating the sides of a triangle when building a bridge.  These are relatively easy for teachers to encourage and plan to include in their curriculum.  For example, using a high-level goal on Bloom’s Taxonomy as an end of unit project such as creating or evaluating can encourage use of course-content in a unique context.  For example after learning about the scientific method and completing experiments provided by the teacher, students may be required to invent their own experiment and carry it out. Teachers may even collaborate to ask students to complete projects that integrate several subject areas and thus encourage transfer of learning.

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