This perspective was based on the idea that the mind

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Unformatted text preview: . Thorndike and Identical Elements At the beginning of the 20th century, the doctrine of formal (or mental) discipline was an influential view of transfer. This perspective was based on the idea that the mind was like a muscle, and that with proper exercise a muscle can be strengthened to improve performance in a variety of tasks. Following this logic it was believed that the mind could also be made stronger through exercise, and the increased mental strength would enhance performance in any number of mental activities (Kolesnik, 1958). From this perspective an important goal of education was to strengthen learners’ mental muscle by engaging students in the rigorous study of difficult subjects such as Greek, Latin, and mathematics (Lemire, 2002). These difficult courses were thought of as mental calisthenics that would help students develop a strong, flexible mind. Thorndike and his colleagues challenged the formal discipline perspective of transfer. In a series of experiments these researchers found that transfer was more limited phenomena then had been previously supposed (Thorndike & Woodworth, 1901). They found that practice in such basic mental tasks as estimation, visual search, and memorization did not directly increase the ability to perform similar tasks in different 9 situations. Rather, the influence of training in one situation on performance in a second situation was related to the similarity between the two situations. This observation prompted Thorndike and Woodworth to speculate that the influence of training was only likely to extend to those functions that shared identical elements with the training situation. Identical elements are the aspects or activities (e.g. stimuli and responses) that are common to two different situations. In other words the likelihood that transfer will occur depends to a large extent on the similarities between one situation and another. Consider the following situation: ⇒ While on here senior trip with her French club, Mary has an opportunity to travel to some other European countries. In order to be able to get around, Mary purchased travel guides with common phrases in various languages. As she traveled, she noticed that it seemed easier for her read the signs and understand the people in Spain and Italy than it was in Germany. How might the concept of identical elements explain the differences in Mary’s ability to understand different European languages? The grammar and vocabulary of French is more similar to that of Italian and Spanish than it is to German. In other words, French shares more identical elements with Spanish and Italian. Mary’s ability to read and understand other languages is influenced by the languages she already knows. The contrast between the view of transfer proposed by Thorndike and Woodworth, with the formal discipline view of transfer helped draw attention to some important questions about transfer. What actually will transfer, and what impact do environmental similarities have on transfer? Advocates of the formal discipl...
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