Theory and practice of teaching for transfer

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Transfer of teaching is central to education. In this article, the evolution of the sole viable theory of transfer—the theory of common elements—is traced from its mentalistic beginnings, through the behaviorist view of elements as stimuli and responses related by the mechanism of conditioning, to the contemporary view of elements as mental representations, knowledge, and strategies operated on by cognitive mechanisms including automatization, inferential reasoning, and metacognitive monitoring. Second, the cognitive theory of elements and mechanisms is used to answer three educationally crucial questions: (1) How do students select, from all they have learned, particular knowledge and skills for use in new situations? (2) What determines the utility of the knowledge and skills selected? (3) When selected knowledge and skills are not useful, what determines whether and how learners cope? Third, the authors identify what they view as needed refinements in experimental methods of studying transfer, in the theory of common elements, in basic and applied research, and in the uses of technology in education.
This is the invited ERIC Annual Review Paper, supported by the ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center) Clearinghouse on Information Resources, Syracuse University.