Transfer of knowledge also known as transfer of learning is a notion that refers to the ease of performance of new tasks owing to previous exposure to a similar situation or a situation that shares similar characteristics to the current one. In this regard it is generally expected that mastery of one cognitive skill will influence another related one.
By the end of the 19th century various views on transfer had emerged. Key among these views was the Doctrine of Formal Discipline (Ormrod, 2004).
This doctrine explained improvement in mental power using the correlation that exists between physical activity and muscle power. It was held that cognitive function could be improved by mental exercise. Study of subjects regarded as difficult was therefore, expected to improve learning of simpler subjects.
Other influential views on this area are the associations approach and the meaning theory. The associations approach asserted that problem solving is achieved through a quick mental trial and error. In this context thinking is a process in which all possible solutions to a problem are mentally tried until one that is appropriate is identified. The identical elements theory gives further insight to this approach (Schunk, 2012).
The theory advances that transfer can only occur when the new task and learned task share identical elements. The identical elements are thought to be stimulus-response pairs. Transfer of a skill increases with increase in the number of identical elements. It can therefore, be said that transfer is functionally related to similarity and difference between stimuli and responses in an original and a transfer task.
Gestalt approach and meaning theory presume that thinking is a process of relating a problem situation to another resulting in understanding (Ormrod, 2004). In such a scenario a transfer is achieved by reorganizing ideas to gain an insight into the problem to be solved.
Two forms of transfer emerge from these approaches; the near transfer and the far transfer. Near transfer denotes a transfer process in which there is overlap between situations. That is, the original and the transfer situations are analogous. For example, learning how to drive a saloon car and transferring that to acquiring skills necessary to drive a truck.
In far transfer there is little overlap between situations. For example, learning problem solving in school and later using knowledge gained to solve problems outside the classroom setting.
Mechanisms of transfer
Two mechanisms of transfer exist. They are the procedural overlap and scheme-based transfer. Procedural overlap transfer is of the view that production sequences gained during training are applicable in performing a new task. A greater overlap in the required productions results in greater the transfer. This kind of transfer is applicable to skills that have recurrent sequences.
Scheme-based transfer is applicable to situations that require an understanding of the problem before a solution is developed. During learning and practice, cognitive schemata are acquired. These acquired schemes provide knowledge necessary for understanding the new problem situation.
Difference between experts and novices in problem solving
Though experts and novices may both achieve a desirable result to a problem, the way they go about it is different. Novices and experts perceive and understand stimuli differently. When solving problems experts can recognize patterns and connections that are not immediately evident to novices.
The experts can therefore, arrive at a solution faster than novices. Experts are also able to filter information faster. Experts often notice the relevant information and separate it from irrelevant information. It is this attribute that helps experts act quickly in situations that require quick and useful responses to avert a danger.
Experts are flexible and highly adaptable to different situations. Experts are able to vary their methods of learning and practice with ease as compared to novices who may have difficulty doing this. This enables the expert to come up with new solutions to a problem. Flexibility is important in problem solving especially when a new challenge is encountered.
Teaching adults problem solving skills
The approaches used to teach adults problem solving skills are not very different from those used when teaching children. Adults can be taught problem solving skills using the problem solving process. This process has three major steps namely; representing the problem, solution search and implementation of the solution.
However, for adults contextual learning is important (Ormrod, 2004). Adults should be taught with special emphasis laid on context. Examples used should be those that one is likely to encounter in real life situations. The examples should be real and properly put in the right context.
Ormrod, J. E. (2004). Human learning (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ, USA: Pearson.
Schunk, D.H. (2012). Learning theories: an educational perspective (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon (Pearson Education).