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were suggesting that it was possible for learners to acquire general thought capabilities 10
that would transfer across situations (Mayer & Wittrock, 1996). This form of transfer has
come to be known as general transfer, or sometime non-specific transfer, because it
refers to the application of general skills and knowledge to apparently dissimilar
situations. For example, a student who is able to transfer a general problem solving
strategy such as visualization to different problem situations would be demonstrating
general transfer. In contrast, Thorndike (1903) argued that transfer is more specific.
Transfer involves the application of specific behaviors learned in one situation to a new
situation. This type of transfer is referred to as specific transfer because it involves the
transfer of specific behaviors learned in one situation to a new similar situation. For
example, the student who can add two plus two in algebra and in statistics is
demonstrating specific transfer of this addition behavior.
Thorndike also argued on the basis of his data that transfer is much more likely to
occur if the learning and transfer environments are more similar. In contrast, advocates
for the formal discipline approach seemed to be arguing that the training of the mind that
occurs in Latin should transfer to quite different environments or academic areas.
Transfer that occurs between similar environments is referred to as near transfer, while
transfer between dissimilar environments is referred to as far transfer. For example,
transferring the ability to drive a manual transmission from a Datsun to a Toyota is an
example of near transfer. Being able to recognize that the scientific principle of a lever
learned in physics might help you design a pop-top soda can is an example of far transfer.
Additional Research on Similarity and Transfer
Further research into the transfer phenomenon revealed that the relationship
between the similarity of situations and transfer was not so straightforward. While it is 11
often the case that experiences in similar situations can facilitate performance, sometimes
these experiences can actually inhibit people’s ability to perform. When a previous
experience results in improved performance in a new situation, it is called positive
transfer. When previous experiences actually interfere with performance in a new
situation; it is called negative transfer. For example, some of what you learn to do while
teaching one group of students may positively transfer and help you with the next group.
Other things you learn may negatively transfer and create a problem with a different
To help resolve the inconsistent effects of similar experiences on transfer, Osgood
(1949) suggested that the actual similarity between two situations had to be looked at
more closely. Behavioral learning theorists study learning by observing the effects of
stimuli on students’ responses. Osgood (1949) suggested that to understand transfer we
had to look at the similarity between...
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- Spring '08