28 June 2015


The ability of the individual to apply the previous experience on the new related experience is what we call transfer of learning. Unless students are able to transfer prior skills and knowledge on new ones, the continuity of learning will be difficult. This article will explain how old learning can be transferred to a new one. You will know what the classroom teacher needs to do in order to facilitate transfer of experiences among his/her students.

Meaning & Definition

The essence of learning is that a previously learnt fact should be linked with a present experience. This is because human being must be dynamic and that the prior experience will make them to develop the new skills and knowledge. The influence that past experience has on the succeeding experience is called transfer of learning.

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Cormier and Hagman, (1987) define transfer of learning as the application of skills and knowledge learned in one context being applied in another context.

Oladele (1998) defines transfer of learning as the effect of prior learning on the present. Learning is meaningful when the past learning smoothens the progress of something else. For example, if a learnt experience refuses to aid the new learning, the goal of training has seized to be accomplished. In the school, the teacher teaches some subjects in order that the experience gained in those subjects could be transferred into another.

Charham (1987) affirms that human and animal learning is normally affected by the past experience, and that the various subjects are included in the school curriculum because of their utility and wide application to real life situations For instance, the teacher who has taught his/her students some skills in Mathematics would believe that such skills be transferred to related subjects like Physics or Accounting. If the students fail to apply these skills in their subsequent learning, it means that the students have not been successful in transferring the learning.

Types of Transfer of Learning

The above example gives us clues into the different types of transfer of learning that we have. These are explained below:

(a)   Positive Transfer: 

This is a situation whereby a previously learnt fact or information aids in the understanding of a new task. Aside from aiding the learners in their subsequent learning, it also helps the learners to learn the new task effectively.

(b)   Negative Transfer:

This is a type of learning in which prior experience impacts negatively on the new one. In this case, the understanding of past skills inhibits the mastering of new ones. For example, if a student wrongly connects information, it can lead to negative transfer.

(c)   Zero Transfer: 

This type of learning reveals no link between the previously learnt task and the recent one. The evidence of zero transfer is hardly  seen, it reveals no clear positive or negative effect.

Theories of Transfer of Learning

a.  Theory of Mental Faculties: 

This theory was propounded by the Greek Philosophers, notable among them was Aristotle. The basic tenet of the theory is that human mind is sub-divided into different powers of faculties like memory, judgment, reasoning or thinking. It is therefore believed that each of these faculties is reinforced and developed by continuous memorization of poetry/poem and similar works. This theory believes that exercises and regular practice will strengthen the mental faculties. The theory therefore dismisses the concept of transfer of learning. To it, a well trained and disciplined mind is the ingredient needed for understanding of new information.

b.  Theory of Identical Elements:

The theory which was developed by Thorndike and Woodworth (American Psychologists). It indicates that it is possible for an individual to transfer the prior skills and knowledge to recent ones because both experiences are identical (share things in common). This theory suggests that a successful or effective learning will happen if there are connections or interrelatedness between the old and the new experiences. For example, it is expected that a student who has learnt about anatomical parts of human being in a Biology lesson, should be able to do well when he/she is asked to name anatomical parts of a goat during Agriculture lesson.

c.  Theory of Generalization: 

This theory was advocated by the Psychologist, Charles Judd. The assumption of the theory is that general principles aid transfer of learning better than segregated facts. This theory believes in Gestalt, an assertion which views learning from a whole or complete form rather than in isolated form. For example, the theory of generalization indicates that a learnt experience should be useful in other day-to -day related activities.

Educational Implications of Transfer of Learning

1.   The teacher should know that transfer of learning will not take place when both the old and new are unrelated. Hence, the teacher should endeavor to teach his/her subject-matter in a more meaningful and detailed way rather than by rote.
2.   The teacher should provide the opportunity for his/her students to practice a subject-matter being discussed along with him/her. When the learners are allowed to take active part in teaching learning activities, they will be able to repeat the task at another time.
3.   For a transfer of learning to take place, the teacher should always emphasize the relationship that exists between one subject- matter and another.
4.   The teacher should endeavor to develop positive attitudes towards a learning task so that the students can be motivated to like the task rather avoiding it.
5.   It is believed that what students see, touch, feel or manipulate will be better remembered than the one they are not familiar with. Hence, for  a  meaningful  transfer  of  learning  to  take  place,  the teacher should incorporate exercises that task the various senses of learners in the learning process.

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