How People Learn: How to use transfer in teaching

In chapter three of How People Learn the emphasis is on better understanding how transfer works and how one kind of learning can lead to transfer, “defined as the ability to extend what has been learned in one context to new contexts”. (51)  This chapter coupled with Wiggins and McTighe’s paper “Put Understanding First” hit home to me the gap between what we think should happen in classrooms and learning centers around the country to what is really happening.  Wiggins and McTighe’s mission for the long-term purpose of schooling was extremely powerful and was a great explanation of the ideologies of transfer and information literacy.

“The mission of high school is not to cover content, but rather to help learners become more thoughtful about, and productive with, content.  It’s not to help students get good at school, but rather to prepare them for the world beyond school–to enable them to apply what they have learned to issues and problems they will face in the future.”

I love this.  Rereading and typing it gives me chills.  This is definitely what we ought to be doing, so how do we do it?  Reading How We Learn, I get the impression that teaching for transfer (and information literacy) we have to start at the very beginning and continue on throughout all stages of education (something we mentioned in class a few weeks ago).  This isn’t something that can be started in high school on a trial basis.  So, why are we not seeing more of this style of teaching/learning in schools?  It seems that a crucial element of transfer is time.  As noted in How We Learn, “expertise occurs only with major investments of time.” (58)  Covering too many topics in a narrow window of time is not nurturing transfer in students, in fact it seems to push students away from learning.  Now that we are on timelines set by standardized tests, teachers, students and administrators may not feel the freedom to take a slower but more effective path of learning.

How will this trend of teaching without transfer affect my future career as an information professional?  One obvious way is that I will be having to do more instructional librarianship in order to fill in the gaps left by formal education.  Not having an academic background in teaching, this task is a little daunting.  Especially considering how I may not be able to see patrons often enough to effectively teach them.  And given on how nuanced transfer seems to be.  This will make my workshop presentations even more important.

Other aspects of the reading that I found particularly interesting were how transfer and cultural practices affect one another.  The study on topic associative oral styles versus topic centered styles is fascinating, especially how some teachers find one style more worthy than others and may discourage or reinforce it.  This issue could definitely relate to my futureb career.  How would the associative oral style play out in a reference interview?  I would hope that even though I may not be this type of communicator I will still be able to assist someone who is.  If you also found this issue interesting you may enjoy this blog post from Teaching in the Inner City.


About mainvils

I am a first year UMSI graduate student specializing in LIS and Preservation of Information.
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One Response to How People Learn: How to use transfer in teaching

  1. Working with GIS applications in a library, I find that I often have to instruct users in how to use a new kind of software. I want to be able to teach them to use it so that they won’t need my assistance with a similar problem next time, but the problem is that our interactions are usually so short that it is difficult to effectively impart new skills. I agree that it is a daunting task, and hopefully experience will make it easier or give me new ideas for how to effectively transfer skills.

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