L&D Transfer

From my email exchange back in July (2022) with Richard E. Clark, EdD:

“Transfer … was hot in the 1980’s and 90’s then more or less disappeared – mostly because the research did not pan out.

It is generally called “Transfer” or “Transfer of Learning”.  It happens of course but the big issue here is – how similar must the domain and context of training and the setting where it is expected to be applied?”

“This issue is referred to as “near” and “far” transfer issue.  The more “near” the expected transfer, the more similar the training and application domains.  Android to iPhone is near transfer.  Chess to battle environments is far transfer.  The distance between near and far is a continuum of course.  

Much of our current training and instructional research focuses on near transfer though it is not characterized that way anymore.  However, almost no research now focuses on farther transfer.  The reason for that is that all attempts to achieve far transfer have more or less failed.  I struggled with this issue in a 1997 chapter with Syd Blake (attached) but I don’t know if anyone tried what we suggested.  The most recent review of far transfer research (2017), by the British psychologist Sala, concluded that far transfer does not happen.  And Will Thalheimer has a very nice review of near transfer research.”  

If It Won’t Likely Transfer – Why Bother?

Here’s an interesting summary of Will Thalhiemr’s work that Dick Clark referred to – here.

A Personal Reflection

Transfer is about being able to apply what was learned in one context to another. So, does what was “learned” in a “Learning Experience” transfer back to the job?

Transfer is improved by focusing on the specifics of the Learner’s performance context and the performance expectations. Or a performance that is close enough (determined ultimately via Testing).

If I was made “aware” via communications regarding some change in how some specific piece of machinery operates (for example, how to start it and turn it off safely using the proper sequence), can I apply that in my context?

If I was made knowledgeable about how to calibrate the machine and make adjustments for proper operations before use on one machine, is that new knowledge transferable to a different machine?

If I was made skillful in operating the machine for a production run, is that skill transferable to a different machine?

Some of this depends on “prior knowledge” and the variances of that across the target audience(s). But can I take that knowledge to other machines and apply that? Do I have the same machine or something very close to that?

If I learn how to operate a car, I can likely transfer that to other cars – unless they are different enough.

In the 90s, when I was in my 40s, I visited my mother in another state. She had recently bought herself a used Porche 911. She offered to let me drive it. She didn’t tell me it had a racing clutch.

I knew how to drive a stick shift as I had learned “how to” starting when I was 8 years old on her parent’s farm. But while the mechanics were similar, they were different enough, and I found myself driving her Porche in a series of lurching movements reminiscent of my competence as an 8-year-old back on the family farm.

But can you imagine if I didn’t know anything about “driving a stick shift” at all?

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