Learning and Transfer- The Disconnect
A complaint that I hear constantly from friends in the business sector is that the high school and college graduates that they have hired don’t know how to think. It seems incredulous that someone who has spent at least 12 to 16 years in school can’t think. It is not an issue of thinking or how much they learned but rather how much they can transfer the knowledge they have to new situations.
It was once assumed that if someone “learned” something, that knowledge could be applied in other contexts. The question arises if we can’t transfer knowledge, did we really learn it in the first place? I took three semesters of calculus in college, passed all three classes but can’t apply any of the information I learned to this day. Did I really learn anything or was I just good at memorizing logarithms?
How the initial learning takes place will determine how much and how well it will be transferred. The key to learning is mastery of a subject with understanding. Unfortunately many of the tests that we use to assess students are based on memorizing facts and procedures. In preparing students for these tests, understanding takes a back seat. Understanding takes time, something that is in short supply in many classrooms. Teachers are pressured by pacing plans and mandates to teach x number of standards in x numbers of days, which leave little time for students to absorb the new information that have learned, let alone review it.
Another impediment to able to transfer learning is a lack of training. For many students, they need to be shown how to use their new knowledge and be given the opportunities to practice. Students also have to be shown how to connect their knowledge across other content areas by doing projects that use information from more than one discipline.
One thing that can not be overlooked is the role that motivation plays in learning.
Students need to feel that what they are learning is relevant to their lives now and in the future. Learning for children needs to be hands-on and tied in with their unique learning modalities. A child who is engaged is a child who learns and who will keep learning.