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Learning and Teaching Environments that Foster Transfer

Vandana Thadani, Psychology, Faculty Associate 2012 - 2013

Transfer involves applying knowledge learned in one context to other "near" or "far" contexts. As instructors, we all aim to help students transfer learning from our lessons and readings to something else: course papers, projects, assessments, and ultimately (we hope!) to contexts outside of our classrooms. Indeed, transfer is, as Halpern and Hakel (2003) describe, “the first and only goal” of formal education. Yet, as many of us have experienced firsthand, transfer is very difficult to achieve, with students too frequently not grasping how knowledge acquired in one lesson, topic, etc., applies to other contexts. This year’s program explores what research tells us about conditions that support (and do not support) transfer. We will explore teaching and learning practices that can improve students’ ability to transfer as well as their motivation to do the effortful work that transfer requires. The current year’s program extends topics introduced in my “Student Engagement and Reflective Learning” program from last year.


This NYT article draws on research by Carol Dweck ("theories of intelligence") and others to describe how adults (parents, teachers) contribute to students' healthy and unhealthy beliefs about themselves as learners. You can use the article to reflect on messages that you may inadvertently give students. You can also share this article with students and then have a discussion about how they might themselves use ideas in the article to become more adaptive learners.

A major problem with transfer of learning has to do with inability to remember information when it's needed. This easy-to-read article describes an effect (the spacing effect) that's been long known by memory researchers and long ignored by the best of students. Though the article is focused on a software program, you could ask students to try to use the principles described in the article to generate a plan for being more efficient "rememberers." 

This is an engaging NPR piece about the role of struggle in Asian and U.S. classrooms. As with many of the other resources on this page, it can be used for discussion with students to uncover and ideally counter their assumptions about about challenge, struggle, and mistakes in schoolwork.


9/17/12: Using Video to Measure Teaching Practices in Science Classrooms

9/27/12: Chocolate, Cheese, and Wine Gathering

11/13/12: Using Living and Learning Communities To Enrich Students’ Intellectual and Personal College Experiences

12/3/12: Chocolate, Wine, and Cheese Gathering

1/22/13: Wine, Cheese and Chocolate Gathering

2/5/13: Building a Toolkit for Supporting Metacognition in the Classroom: Lessons from Middle School Science Teachers

4/2/13: Supporting Students to Transfer Learning: CTE Master Teachers

5/2/13: Wine, Cheese and Chocolate Gathering