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Five Ways to Help Students Transfer Their Learning to New Situations

00:00 December 18, 2020
By: Michael Turner

To describe the process of applying what one has learned in a particular situation to another context, psychologists suggested the term "transfer of learning". This means that a student's comprehension allows them to recognize relevant knowledge and use it effectively outside original learning conditions. Educators believe that transfer is a hallmark of true learning.

It can function in various ways, even negative ones. It happens when students misunderstood some information while learning. There are also so-called near transfers, where individuals apply their knowledge to a related context, as well as far transfers, which means using knowledge beyond the classroom, like during trips, social interactions, or work.

To understand this concept better, let's consider some real examples. Young people learning electrical engineering get information about circuits and electricity, which they apply later when the instructor brings market products into class for dissecting and rebuilding. Another example could be a student that takes a course on drama and writes her own play over the semester, using the techniques and structures learned throughout her coursework.

In general, learning transfer could take place at school when using knowledge about one problem in order to solve another one, or when applying gained skills to different classes as well as home situations. This term is also commonly used for workplace situations that might occur in the future.

Some information from essay examples

According to the data collected from numerous student's essays, most young people are not able to apply the knowledge and skills they learn to other challenges inside and outside of college. Even though the transfer is the primary purpose of education, its system doesn't encourage teachers to reinforce this practice. Hence, young people often resort to a useful academic resource for American students that helps to boost their academic results. In order to develop a broad perspective that they can apply to understanding the world around them today and in the future, students search for modern tools for studying online.

According to learning theory, there are many different teaching strategies that can help young people transfer their knowledge to different settings. Let's have a look at some of them!


To promote a better understanding of key concepts, teachers should ask students to explain them in their own words. They might retell the information to others or try "self-explanation". Multiple studies have demonstrated that this type of explaining helps not only reveal incorrect assumptions but also generalize concepts for future applications.


Teachers are typically pressured to "cover" the curriculum, especially prior to standardized tests. Therefore, they can't find time to create the necessary conditions needed for transfer to occur. There is a lack of opportunities to utilize deliberate practice that increases understanding. In order to maximize the possibility of transfer, there must be conditions that allow active monitoring of one's learning and regular feedback.

Working in groups

The National Academy of Sciences conducted research comparing school environments to settings in other aspects of everyday life. They've noticed that schools are concentrating on individualized work much more than most other non-school situations, which diminishes the opportunities for transfer. Hence, scientists argue that schools should place a greater emphasis on group learning for successful transfer in non-classroom situations.

Using metaphors and analogies

Analogies and metaphors are great tools for enhancing knowledge transfer. Teachers can use what was widely known previously and apply it to a new situation so it's better understood. For instance, everybody knows how a pump works, so one can compare it to the principle of heart functioning.


To develop the ability to transfer, students should practice it. It can be done with the help of comparative scenarios. Teachers can offer two different scenarios, readings or formulas, and ask students to find single methods for solving or analyzing each of them. It can also be done vice versa: instructors may ask students to create different scenarios that require the same skill set and knowledge. Moreover, teachers can engage students in case studies that require using a variety of knowledge similar to readings or lecture material.

Final thoughts

It's important to note that students need to get a good understanding of the concepts in order to implement the transfer. Although it may seem obvious, not all people understand this easy rule. There is a dramatic difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something, asRichard Feynman once said. Therefore, a transfer must be based on reliable learning and deep understanding.

Some teachers assume that learning transfer happens automatically. However, studies prove that most students experience difficulty applying the knowledge they learned to different classes and to outside situations. Unfortunately, transfer does not happen magically. Teachers need to take action on a regular basis to increase its chances. Some of such actions have been described in this article, but they are not limited by those mentioned above.

Author's Bio

Michael Turner is an academic writer and coach. Michael's job is to help students with their college papers and projects. His life goal is to teach young people to study smart and apply their knowledge in everyday life.

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