Facilitating Transfer of Learning

What is it?

Transfer of Learning are strategies that facilitate packaging of the course learning in a form so it can be successfully used (and hopefully refined) after the instruction is completed.  Put another way, with regard to learning, what happens in a class should never stay in the class.

Why do it?

As an instructor, it may not be enough to share your expertise and supervise the parroting of theory and mastery of facts and formulas.   Learning needs to influence and enhance learner behavior outside of class.  Why? “Access to quality higher education has become an increasingly urgent imperative, not only for career mobility, but also career stability,” suggests Granite State College President Todd Leach (2012).  Providing students with the tools to implement and refine the skills developed in a course of instruction is central to aiding a student’s academic success and professional development.

The National Research Council classic How People Learn suggests, “Traditional education has tended to emphasize memorization and mastery of text.  Research on the development of expertise, however, indicates that more than a set of general problem-solving skills or memory for an array of facts is necessary to achieve deep understanding.”  “The future of learning,” writes Dr. Anders Gronstedt, “is about doing – simulating and engaging not watching, reading, and listening.”  Why is this so?  Jeff Hawkins inventor of the PalmPilot and major researcher in artificial intelligence puts it well, “Human intelligence is measured by the capacity to remember and predict patterns in the world…the brain receives patterns through experience, stores them as memories, and makes predictions by combining what it has seen before to what is happening now” (as cited by Sousa, 2006).  His ideas are supported by Suzanne Corbin and Matt Wilson of MIT’s Brain and Cognitive Science Department, “Learning is a change in behavior based on experience.”

Developing and employing strategies that transfer learning extends the learning past the classroom for real world use where the skill(s) can be applied, reflected on, and refined…the foundation of experience.  Using transfer of learning activities also assist in actively processing new information through the active working memory into the long term memory for storage and retrieval.

How to do it?

The ideas and resources to implement meaningful and useful transfer of learning activities are limited only to your imagination.  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Create a “Toolkit” of important concepts, key ideas, specialized skills and/or lessons learned
  2. Develop a list of best practices or best practices portfolio
  3. Build a personalized Guidebook or Manual
  4. Write an application log/journal
  5. Develop a fact sheet on key topics
  6. Create a “Quick Study” style guide. For more information and examples go to:: http://www.barcharts.com/REF000000-list.aspx?P=1
  7. Make Graphic Training Aids (aka “Troop card”) style learning aids.  For more information and examples go to: http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/army/bct.pdf

These activities require the learners to have adequate component skills (skills required to carry out the assigned task) along with well-developed instructions, rationale for the activity and perhaps a few examples if possible.

In addition to the transfer activity, a plan of action to implement the new learning helps the learner put the new learning into play out in the real world and may help create a positive “climate for transfer” (Noe, 2010).  An evaluation protocol helps the learner apply and refine new learning and develop expertise.  The Army’s After Action Review is fine tool to recommend learner’s use to evaluate and improve on their performance of the new learning: what did you set out to do, what actually happened, why did it happen, what changes are necessary (USAID After Action Review Technical Guide, 2006).



Leach, Todd (2012) Granite State College President’s Welcome.  Retrieved from:  http://www.granite.edu/about/welcome.php

National Research Council (2000) How People Learn.  National Academy Press, Washington D.C.

Gronstedt, Anders (2008). All Aboard! The Web 3D Train Is Leaving the Station. Retrieved from: http://www.astd.org/lc/2008/1208_gronstedt.htm

Sousa, David (2006) How the Brain Learns. Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA

Corbin, Suzanne, Wilson, Matt (2007) Neural basis of Learning and Memory.  Retrieved from: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/brain-and-cognitive-sciences/9-03-neural-basis-of-learning-and-memory-fall-2007/

Noe, Raymond (2010) Employee Training and Development.  McGraw-Hill, New York, New York.

USAID After Action Review Technical Guide (2006). Retrieved from: http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/pnadf360.pdf


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