Visible Learning for Literacy: Transfer Learning

Transfer learning is one of the most important skills we can teach our students. Simply stated, transfer learning is when we use prior knowledge or schema in new situations. If we want our students to become lifelong learners (which of course we do), then we need to teach them how to harness their knowledge and skills and apply them to situations in and outside of school.

Transfer learning is one of the most important skills we can teach our students. Simply stated, transfer learning is when we use prior knowledge or schema in new situations. If we want our students to become lifelong learners (which of course we do), then we need to teach them how to harness their knowledge and skills and apply them to situations in and outside of school.


Transfer learning occurs naturally. This learning begins in kindergarten and progresses developmentally with the learner. If you examine your lesson plans or think back on your last guided reading session, you will find evidence of transfer learning. Fisher, Frey, and Hattie discuss four types of transfer learning:

low-road transfer: new learning and prior knowledge are similar; automaticity with increased exposure

high-road transfer: learning must be mindful and connections between new learning and prior knowledge are created purposefully

near transfer: transfer occurring between similar contexts

far transfer: transfer occurring between distant contexts

To help promote transfer in your students, it is best to teach subjects in meaningful context. For instance, if you are teaching letter writing to your students you could complete a read-aloud, create an anchor chart about the parts of a letter, draft a letter as a class, and then have students write a letter to the principal about something that is important to them. If students have transferred their learning, they should be able to explain the concept (how to write a letter) and understand when and why the concept is useful (communicating an important idea or message with a specific audience). The key to successful transfer learning is making the learning meaningful to the lives of your students.

The bottom line is that transfer learning is important. Without transfer of learning we would be starting from scratch in every situation... meaning we would need to be taught anytime we wanted to do anything. How do you facilitate transfer learning in your classroom?

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