Unit 3: The challenge of transfer

Welcome to unit 3. Watch this video where James Lang explains the challenge of transfer.

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JAMES LANG
The third principle is about transfer. Transfer is about how we take knowledge from one context and put it to another context. Now this is something that education generally assumes is going to happen. I teach students something in class. Then, a year later, when they're out in their careers, they're going to apply the knowledge they learned from me.
Unfortunately, the research on this shows that humans are not very good at this. We actually tend to learn things in context, and we tend to keep that knowledge within the context, unless we are given deliberate help in pushing it out of that context into other realms. So for example, you may have had the experience of learning something or having an experience in a particular room or place, and then you leave, and you don't think about it until you get back into that room or place. And then you think, oh, yeah, I remember this happened last time I was here.
That's a symptom of this problem. I mean, in some ways, if we're not learning anything that needs to be transferred, there's nothing wrong with that. But if we're trying to help people learn things that are going to transfer to a new context, this is a challenge. So what it means for us is that we shouldn't just assume that when we teach students something, they're going to retain it and be able to use it years later in their career. In fact, if we want that to happen, we have to think very deliberately about how we can help them recognise that the knowledge they're learning in your class will apply to later context.
We have to get them to deliberately think about that. How are you going to use this in your career? Where are you going to see this at some point in the future? I try to sort of prime them so that when they get out into those other things, they'll better be able to remember what they learned with you. So since we can't really follow our students out into their careers and be reminding them about what we learned, what we have to do instead is sort of try to bring the future in to the class and bring these other contexts into the class, so that they'll have a better chance of applying that knowledge when they get out into these other contexts.
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Transfer of knowledge

An important goal of all education is transfer of knowledge: the ability of the learners to take what they have learned in one context and apply it to a new context. In the area of anti-corruption, integrity and ethics, you want your students to take what they have learned in the Modules and apply it to ethical situations they encounter outside of the classroom: on campus, at home, in their careers, in their communities, and beyond.

When teaching a class based on E4J Ethics Module 4 (Ethical Leadership), for example, one might expect that students will take what has been learned in that lesson and use them when they find themselves in leadership positions - but they might be months or years away from assuming leadership roles in a professional environment or in their communities.

Connecting knowledge to different contexts

Research on learning shows that transfer is very difficult to achieve. People tend to learn new skills and ideas within specific contexts and then associate those skills and ideas with the context in which they learned them. The best way of helping students transfer knowledge outside of the classroom contexts in which they first encounter it is to help connect that knowledge to contexts that students encounter in their everyday lives (Ambrose, 2010).

As much as possible, you should always work to provide real-world examples of the ideas and principles that you are teaching, and - even better - invite students to identify and explain their own examples of those ideas and principles.

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3.1 Hypothetical scenarios