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similar to English words. If the students know the English word then they
learn the Spanish word more easily. For instance, the Spanish word barco
which means boat is similar to the English word Barque, which is a kind of
boat. Students who have this word in their English vocabulary learn the
Spanish word more quickly than those who don’t.
Bryan’s observations illustrate the benefit to learning when previously learned concepts
and skills can be used to enhance the understanding of new material. Bryan’s example
also illustrates that transfer depends on what students have learned previously, and may
also explain some of the variation in students’ performances. Students who lack relevant
prior knowledge are likely to perform less well compared to their more knowledgeable
There is also wide agreement that some forms of transfer of learning are difficult
for students, and occur less often than we might want as teachers (Alexander & Murphy,
1999; Detterman, 1993; Stark, Mandl, Gruber, & Renkl, 1999). There are many instances
when people miss opportunities or make mistakes because they fail to transfer what
they’ve learned. Consider the experience of Bob Kennedy with the students in his 9th
grade industrial arts class.
⇒ One project my students must complete is to use a blueprint for a shed to
create a parts list. For some of the materials, such as shingles, sheathing and
paint, the students need to use some basic geometry to determine the area to
be covered. I know they’ve all learned how to calculate the areas of squares,
rectangles, triangles, circles, and other shapes in their math classes, but for 4
some reason many of the students just don’t use these skills until they’re
Bob Kennedy’s observation is not uncommon. People frequently just don’t notice
that a previously learned concept or skill might be useful in a new situation until they are
reminded. Much of the research on transfer has been directed at determining the factors
that influence whether or not someone will transfer what he or she know at an appropriate
time. By understanding these factors you can make it more likely that students will take
advantage of what they know.
We should also note that the effects of transfer on learning are not always
beneficial. Sometimes people attempt to apply an inappropriate concept or skill resulting
in slower performance or out-right mistakes. Consider Mary Eddistone’s experience
teaching 6th grade mathematics.
⇒ Many of my students have trouble with negative numbers. Specifically when
they are asked to subtract a larger number from a smaller number they get
the sign wrong. When I ask them to explain how they got their answer, it
was clear that they are so used to subtracting the smaller number from the
bigger number that they don’t even pay attention to how the problem is
You may have noticed in each of the preceding examples that the learners were
dealing with a problem situation. Tra...
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This document was uploaded on 03/29/2014 for the course EPS 324 at N. Arizona.
- Spring '08