I have recently had a paper published in the Global Education Review that reports on a small scale study into promoting transfer of learning through integrated problem solving for pre-service teachers of technology education. You can access the full paper by clicking here. I have included the abstract at the end of this post, but thought I would include a few words about the resultant shift in my own thinking about learning transfer that may be of use to others.
Prior to embarking upon this, I was aware (especially as a secondary school teacher) that pupils did not necessarily make the links and draw upon understanding from other areas that I would have expected. Indeed, there were even instances where the context of the task and the way it was presented seemed to actively mitigate the formation of these connections (with examples such as the diameter of circle becoming less visible to pupils when the arc or circle is part of a larger drawing or representation). I was also aware that I probably made a lot of assumptions that pupils were making these sorts of connection that maybe seemed obvious from my vantage points as the teacher. Now, this is not to say that this was the case across the board – there were probably just as many instances where pupils did make links, but those in which they did not were more interesting. Notably, I observed the type of thing with undergraduate students.
Looking back, and as discussed in the paper, I am now of the opinion that I was trying to promote transfer from the wrong direction (i.e. retrospectively, from the task into which I wanted pupils to transfer knowledge or understanding). The research undertaken as part of this paper suggests that tasks should be developed in such a way as to promote prospective transfer in a range of varied and future contexts (something of particular interest to anybody considering the application dimension of curriculum for excellence courses). In this sense, tasks are developed to address the required learning AND to set the conditions and mindsets to increase the chances that it will be transferred to a problem or task in the future. In response to this, a framework for transfer enhancement was developed as part of this paper and is shown in Figure 1. This could be used by anyone when designing courses and tasks for enhanced transfer and can be considered as a set of criteria that studies have suggested make future transfer more likely to occur. This was certainly suggested in the findings of my own study.
Details and greater explanation of the research underpinning each of these can be found in the paper. Course attributes are considered to be those features that permeate a course or unit of work, whilst task affordances are things that tasks within this should allow learners to do.
Despite there being a small number of participants in this study, the findings were very encouraging. For a number of the participants, there was evidence that the way they considered learning, problem solving and transfer had shifted quite notably and they were beginning to autonomously instigate unprompted learning transfer in different contexts within and out with their university course. Though not conclusive, this is suggestive of transformative learning. Moreover, there was an almost unanimous feeling that such skills and capacities would be of significant value to pupils. There is definitely scope for this to be explored in a larger scale.
If anyone would like to discuss aspects of this further or would like to try using the framework in the design of tasks for their own learners, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
To download the abstract for this paper, click: GER Paper Abstract.
Reference for Paper: Morrison-Love, D. (2014). Promoting Transfer and an Integrated Understanding for Pre-Service Teachers of Technology Education. Global Education Review, 1 (4). P15-36.