The flow of information into the mind of human beings is a key aspect of how learning occurs. This is represented by knowledge dissemination in education. According to Sousa (2011), the processing of information by the human brain is a complex matter influenced by dynamics of an individual’s environment. These dynamics are the changes that relate to the five main senses, which are touch, hearing, sight, smell, and taste. The past experiences of people also influence their understanding and processing of that information (Sousa, 2011). Education is practiced through the impartation of knowledge from the instructor to a student. This makes education a knowledge-based concept with emphasis on the ability of a student to use the information in their school environment to understand a given subject.
Real learning occurs when a student understands a concept to the extent that they can apply it anywhere. The quality of education that a student receives is a key determinant of whether real learning will occur. Essentially, this is due to the fact that a learner is affected by factors that exist in their internal and external environment (Njui, 2018). The quality of education becomes a determinant factor with regard to its susceptibility to influence by these environmental factors. The higher the quality the better the student is able to thrive regardless of their environment. Furthermore, real learning can be fostered by quality education with respect to the creation of a conducive environment for cognitive development (Njui, 2018). This implies that a school environment, for instance, should be tailored to meet the learning needs of a student, making knowledge impartation by teachers and trainers more effective. The transfer of learning is a tool that can be used to improve the design of instruction with respect to the promotion of real learning. This paper provides an insight into this through a review of the literature on the subject of transfer of learning in education.
Lobato (2006) reiterated that a key objective of the practice of educators and instructors is the creation of a learner that is able to adopt what they learn beyond the classroom. This is what makes up the design of most curriculums that are customized to suit real learning experiences in schools. For example, the problems that society face cannot all be anticipated at the time that a learner is doing their studies. As such, it is inherent that education should prepare students to adapt well to problem-solving in the real world. A key issue raised by Lobato (2006) is the existence of alternative aspects of learning transfer, which elucidate further on its potential as a tool for providing real learning in education. During the development of studies on learning transfer, scholars and professionals differed on the rationale that justifies the transfer of learning as a basis for designing curriculum and instruction, especially in the 1990s. The major issue of contention was that the transfer of learning was just a way of “carrying over” the knowledge that a student has learned into the real world with a minimal understanding of the associated challenges with relation to the adaptability of their knowledge with real-world problem solving (Lobato, 2006). In response to this, researchers provided a framework to rethink and redefine the transfer of learning as a tool for quality in education. The outcome was an enhanced definition of the role that the transfer of learning plays in the future of a student.
Ideally, the transfer of learning makes an individual ready for future learning (Lobato, 2006). Future learning denotes the constant learning that exists in the real world by changing life experiences and changes to the business and industrial environment. Additionally, an emphasis is placed on the need for the student to use their knowledge to solve any problems that may arise.
The conceptualization of instruction design using the transfer of learning is reliant on understanding how a learner will be able to actually transfer the knowledge. It requires an evaluation of how their learning experience will be relevant to them in the future with an aspect of usefulness. Goldstone and Day (2012) discussed such conceptualization in the modern-day practice of education. As cited in their article, educational research indicates that the assumption that students will automatically transfer what they have learned in the classroom to the real world is irrational. A case example is provided where a study tested the adaptability of knowledge in physics. Students had been taught by their teacher about the calculation of the time it takes a ball to fall from the top of a tower to the bottom. In the test, the students were asked how long it takes a ball to fall from the top of a well to the bottom, and their response was that they had not studied the case of a ball falling in a well (Goldstone & Day, 2012). This is an indicator that the transfer of learning is not spontaneous but rather an outcome that is fostered through effective instruction design. Newer conceptualizations of the transfer of learning in modern education studies point toward the importance of the internal environment of the learner. There is a renewed interest in the measurement and fostering of the transfer of learning using implicit measures that are indirect and to which a student can respond (Goldstone & Day, 2012). An example of this is the understanding of how students can be made to view events in the real world as a manifestation of the principles and concepts they learned in the classroom. This is essential in increasing their ability to solve problems using the same principles but outside the school environment.
Dixon (2012) studied the problem-solving attribute of transfer of learning, focusing on the ability to connect concepts. The study was based on three key aspects of problem-solving, one of which is representation. This is the view of a problem in the mind of the learner and how the learner conceptualizes it. The individual’s representation of the problem is relatable to the concepts that they have learned before (Dixon, 2012). In addition to representation, the study was also based on the aspects of understanding and experience. Understanding, in this case, refers to the comprehension of a problem by the learner and the extent to which they know its elements. Experience, in turn, refers to the exposure of the student to concepts that are related to the problem, either in the classroom or in real life. The study found that for students to transfer the concepts and knowledge that they have learned to problem-solving in the real world, activities need to be performed to help them understand classroom concepts well (Dixon, 2012). Understanding of classroom concepts exposes them to the principles and elements of a given subject, which can be remembered in the event that they encounter a similar but indirectly related problem in the future. The need to cater for reflective practice is also crucial (Dixon, 2012). This is the use of education as a tool for continuous learning whereby an individual continues to reflect on the concepts they studied in school as a way of improving their current work-related engagements. It can be implemented using strategies that increase the likelihood of students remembering concepts that they studied such as the use of group discussions and class presentation of academic work.
As observed, instruction is geared towards making a person apply the knowledge acquired in one area to another. Larsen-Freeman (2013) looked into the transformative aspect of the transfer of learning. The article indicated that instead of exporting the concepts that they studied in class, learners should be able to transform their learning experiences. Resultantly, they are able to apply knowledge in the future in a transformative manner, making them lifelong learners. Larsen-Freeman (2013) argued that learning is more than cognition. It has underlying elements that are associated with the learner as a human being, which influence their ability to transfer knowledge into different contexts. Such elements include emotions and motivation. As a direct consequence of motivation, for instance, a learner is able to engage more in learning activities. Through such engagement, they are more capable of remembering what they studied and applying it to future activities. Additionally, there is a need to enhance learning through understanding and iteration rather than reusing knowledge (Larsen-Freeman, 2013). Iteration is similar to reuse. The major difference, however, exists in the manner in which learning is transferred between the two. In iteration, the learner reviews what they learned and repeatedly makes use of the same concept to solve different problems. Reusing is the utilization of the concept studied in school to solve a problem that is directly related to it. Iteration is better as it creates a more adaptive individual that can use a concept in one area to solve a problem that arises in another area.
As cited by Subedi (2004) modern-day research studies indicate that without transfer, instruction cannot be considered to have achieved its purpose. This has led to the emergence of two similar but related concepts, which are the transfer of learning and the transfer of training. Training transfer is a more technical element of learning transfer. It is mostly applied in understanding how learning can be used in performing activities and professional practice in the future. It refers to the retention of skills and attitudes that they acquired from school. Subedi (2004) reported increased attention to the use of the workplace as a context to understand the transfer of learning. It is because once undergraduate and graduate studies have been completed, the best way to understand how a person practices the concepts they learned before is to perform work-related duties, most of which have one or more attributes of problem-solving.
The transfer of learning is an essential tool in instruction. As observed in the review of the literature, the ability of a person to make use of the knowledge that they studied before is not an automatic and spontaneous reaction that is tied to the acquisition of the knowledge. It means that the acquisition of knowledge is not a provider of direct assurance that the learner will transfer that knowledge into the future. Measures need to be undertaken to improve the likelihood of real learning as fostered by the transfer of learning. Through this, the learners become better professionals as they can adapt to changes in the external industrial environment in dynamic industries like finance, healthcare, and marketing.
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Dixon, R. A. (2012). Transfer of learning: Connecting concepts during problem-solving. Journal of Technology Education, 24(1), 2-17.
Goldstone, R. L., & Day, S. (2012). Introduction to new conceptualizations of transfer of learning. Educational Psychologist, 47(3), 1-4.
Larsen-Freeman, D. (2013). Transfer of learning transformed. Language Learning, 63(1), 107-129.
Lobato, J. (2006). Alternative perspectives on the transfer of learning: history, issues, and challenges for future research. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15(4), 431-449.
Njui, H. (2018). Education reforms towards 21st-century skills: Transforming students’ learning experiences through effective learning environments. European Journal for Education Studies, 4(1), 21-41.
Sousa, D. A. (2011). How the brain learns (4th ed.). California: Corwin.
Subedi, B. (2004). Emerging trends of research on transfer of learning. International Education Journal, 5(4), 591-599.