This blog post is part of a four-part series in response to the recent report by the National Academies Press entitled Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century. The purpose of these posts is to summarize the most salient points of the research and provide context for your personal journey with instructional design. The entire research report can be downloaded here at no charge.
Yesterday's post explored the single link between competency-embedded learning experiences and meaningful learning: Educational transfer. Today, I'll share some specific strategies shared in Education in Life and Work to promote transfer for students.
Education for Life and Work states:
Similarly, in solving problems, transfer is facilitated by instruction that helps learners develop deep understanding of the structure of a problem domain and applicable solution methods, but is not supported by rote learning of solutions to specific problems or problem-solving procedures.
Simply put, we need to stay away from teaching our kids "recipes" that will only apply to a few situations successfully. Instead, we need to present them with difficult problems that they can solve themselves, effectively creating their own, personalized methods and strategies for facing new situations.
The report also cites 6 specific strategies to enhance transfer in the classroom. These will not likely be new to you, but they are certainly worth remembering!
- Using multiple and varied representations of concepts and tasks
- Encouraging elaboration, questioning, and explanation
- Engaging learners in challenging tasks
- Teaching with examples and cases
- Priming student motivation
- Using formative assessment
Another general way to promote transfer cited in the NAP report is that teachers must actively balance cognitive load. There are three types of cognitive processing that occurs with every task: extraneous, essential, and generative. Extraneous processing is that which does not pertain to the task at hand. Essential processing requires the learner to mentally represent the material. Generative processing requires the learner to make sense of the material and assimilate it into long term memory. Transfer is promoted when extraneous processing is reduced, leaving more space and effort for essential and generative processing. Practically, this means that you should carefully craft learning assignments that focus on the competency that you want students to transfer. Be clear about your goals, and ensure that each learning activity aligns to your goals.
We should be using these strategies all the time in our classrooms. Students don't need to have mastered every piece of content before they can begin to engage in educational meaning-making and transfer.
Tomorrow's post will give you a few simple strategies to move forward with your curriculum designs this year using the research as a guide.