Transfer of Learning Bre Cox

Promoting the transfer of learning

To increase transfer of learning it is important that teachers know that transfer of learning is possible and that it does happen. It is important that teachers create learning experiences with the goal of knowledge transfer in mind. Teachers that seek to promote transfer of learning yield increased results. Olivia (2009) states that transfer of learning is increased when teachers guide the learners to find underlying generalizations and apply them. It also states that when the learner finds the information for themselves or enhancement of meaning takes place during the instruction then the amount of transfer of learning increases.
There are many things to consider when designing a multimedia lesson to help increase the transfer of learning. It is important that the contexts of the lesson are meaningful and that the learner is receiving informed instruction. It is helpful for the learner to understand when and why the lesson is being presented. It is crucial to the success of the transfer of learning that the learner have many sessions to practice and learn the material. It is also best if the material can be presented in multiple settings.
Alessi and Trollip (2001) state that using a stimulus and response mode of presenting information yields a high transfer of learning rate. They suggest that similarity, variety, and direction should be used. When the stimulus from drill and practice are realistic then near transfer results are promoted. Far transfer from drill and practice is the result of its having varied stimulus and response. The best way to promote transfer of learning to real life situations is through simulations that have accurate details that reproduce real life effects.

The cognitive theory of multimedia learning

The cognitive theory of multimedia learning states that learners have an audio channel, and a visual channel that can each store a limited amount of information at a time. The audio and visual channels are used to process information through the learner’s short term memory, working memory, and long term memory. Learners retain more information when they receive words and pictures rather than just words.

Four principles to consider

When desiring to increase transfer of learning the four principles to consider are the multiple representation principle, the contiguity principle, the split-attention principle, and the coherence principle.

1. Multimedia representation principle: The multimedia representation principle suggests that the multimedia effect, presenting information in more than one form such as words and pictures, is more effective than having only one form of presentation.
2. Contiguity principle: The contiguity principle is in alignment with the cognitive theory of multimedia learning. The contiguity principle recommends that when pictures have text they should be presented simultaneously. The theory is that the referential links between the picture and corresponding words are activated when the two are shown together.
3. Split-attention principle: Also in alignment with the cognitive theory of multimedia learning is the split-attention principle. When presenting animations it is best to provide any simultaneous explanations in an auditory form rather than in text so as to not overload the brains visual processing system.
4. Coherence principle: The coherence principle states that coherent explanations are better formed from summaries that present the key information. This principle also follows the cognitive theory of multimedia learning because too much information makes it more difficult for the learner to make sense of what is being presented.

Four transfer of learning types

1. Near transfer: Near transfer refers to the learner’s ability to take the information that one was learned in one situation and apply it in a different but similar situation. Near transfer is most successful when the learning situation has many of the elements that can be found in the real life situation.
2. Far transfer: Far transfer refers to the learner’s ability to take the information that was learned in one situation and apply it in a situation that is not similar. Far transfer is most successful when the learning situation is varied.
3. Negative transfer: Negative transfer occurs when the learner takes information learned from one situation and applies it to situation causing an interference of learning. This can happen when the learner makes incorrect connections between two different situations.
4. Positive transfer: Positive transfer occurs when the learning from one situation adds value to another situation. This transfer takes place when the learner recognizes commonalities between different situations and is able to connect the information from memory.


Graphics and visualizations help learners acquire knowledge because of the brains ability to remember visual information. Research has led some scholars to believe that simulations and computer based models are the best method for advancing transfer of learning in subjects such as math and science. The advantage that simulations have is that they can provide visualization and computer based models can be interactive. The interactivity of technology is important in aiding transfer of learning because learners can explore, experiment with their ideas, and receive feedback.
More research suggests that content knowledge and problem solving skills have are often a result of practical abilities. High analytic abilities do not predict a transfer of problem solving abilities like the more practical abilities but they do result in greater content knowledge. High creative abilities are a determinate for transfer of problem solving skills but not content knowledge.


Alessi, S. M. & Trollip, S. R. (2001). Multimedia for learning: Methods and development. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A., & Cocking, R. R. (1999). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and
School. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Howard, B. C., McGee, S., & Shin, N. (2001). The Triarchic Theory of Intelligence and Computer-based Inquiry Learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 49 49-69.

Kay, R. H. (2007). Learning Performance and Computer Software: An Exploration of Knowledge Transfer. Computers in Human Behavior, 23, 333-352.

Olivia, F. P., (2009). Developing the Curriculum. San Francisco: Pearson Education, Inc.

Web Resources

Learning Theories and Transfer of Learning

Mayer, R. & Moreno, R. A Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning: Implications for Design Principles.