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Interesting Study On “Transfer” Reinforces Effectiveness Of “Learning By Doing”

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I’ve written about about “transfer of learning” and how I’ve tried to apply it in class (see The Best Resources For Learning About The Concept Of “Transfer” — Help Me Find More).

And I’ve shared a lot about the importance of assisting students to follow the idea of “learning by doing” (see The Best Research Demonstrating That Lectures Are Not The Best Instructional Strategy and The Best Posts Questioning If Direct Instruction Is “Clearly Superior”).

Today, a post by Daniel Willingham (A New Idea to Promote Transfer) about a study on transfer of learning brings those two ideas together.

The study itself is pretty incomprehensible to a non-academic like me, but, as usual, Dan does a great job putting it into layperson’s terms.

Analogies are great ways to promote transfer (see my Ed Week video at the bottom of this post for more info). But even they don’t always work.

The study found that if teachers first introduce the analogy/story and then ask students to write a similar story before they challenge students to apply the analogy to a solving a problem, they’ll do a much better job of transfer than if they are asked to apply only the analogy given by the teacher.

It seems to me this, once again, reinforces the importance of learning by doing. It’s similar to research that shows students find lessons more relevant if they are challenged to write about how they will apply it in real life instead of teachers telling them the connection (see The Best Ideas For Helping Students Connect Lessons To Their Interests & The World).

However, it’s hard for me to see how this study has other practical implications in helping students understand transfer of learning outside of incorporating it in the context of a specific lesson on transfer (like the ones I’ve done and written about).  Let me know if you have other ideas.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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