I was looking to wrap up my slide deck for DevLearn (will be talking learning science), and wanted to see if there was anything missing. In particular, I knew I had a fair bit on retention, but I was checking on what I call ‘transfer’. In doing so, I realized that colleagues and others use the term differently! Which means it’s time to talk ‘transfer’.
So one of our good research translators is Will Thalheimer. I found his report (PDF) on transfer, and its usage was as many others I’d found. Will describes transfer as moving learning from the instructional environment to the workplace. No argument this is important! Yet, it’s not how I use the word.
In talking learning science, I’ve seen and said that the two gold standards are retention over time until needed, and transfer to all appropriate (and no inappropriate) situations. (That’s what I’ll be talking about in my session: what leads to those.) My notions here are both part of his transfer.
I get my usage of transfer essentially from folks like John Anderson at Carnegie Mellon Uni, who talks about what facilitates transfer. He’s the one I think of, for instance, when thinking of identical elements transfer, which stipulates that the more elements are the same, the higher the transfer. There’s near and far transfer, as well. That indicates the breadth of area you’re transferring to, really. E.g. negotiation would be far transfer, as there are many situations, whereas training to specifically run projector MX3600D4 is very much near transfer.
In a review of transfer I found (PDF), a distinction is made between ‘low-‘ and ‘high-road’ transfer. The former ‘happens’, while the latter is engineered. Given that, to me, instruction is about engineering success, maximizing likelihoods, I’m all for the latter. So, choosing contexts and supporting reflection.
To memory, even the academic literature about workplace learning seems to support the other interpretation. Yet, my term seems more in line with what the learning science community. In the longer term, we’ll need to reconcile, but for me, the distinction between the elements of retention and transfer are important. So, when I’m talking ‘transfer’, what I mean is the breadth of application. That’s my take, what are your thoughts?