Thursday, April 10, 2014

Students Can Transfer Knowledge if Taught How

One psychologist described it as education’s holy grail. Another called it ʺthe very measure of learning itself.ʺ

They were talking about the transfer of learning. Such transfer occurs in its most cognitively valuable forms when students draw on something they learned in one context, ideally by generalizing its core principles, and apply it appropriately to a situation that is far different from the original.

For example, a student in a military-­history course might learn about a general who attacked by dividing his army into many small groups so they could safely move through terrain infested with land mines. In a biology course that student might learn how a doctor treats a tumor by using many low doses of radiation to damage the tumor while preserving the tissue. The underlying strategy was the same.

While it is a longstanding goal, transfer of learning has gained renewed appeal as critics press institutions to prove the worth of a college education.

Teaching students to transfer their knowledge, say many faculty members and administrators, is also imperative in a world in which troves of information are a mouse-click away. If professors continue to see themselves as dispensers of content, they will have little of lasting value to offer.


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