Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Transfer as a Vehicle to Competency: Part 2

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.

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Yesterday we discussed the need for students to develop complex competencies if they are to be successful in today's increasingly polarizing modern job market. Today, I'll share my thoughts on the role of educational transfer in response to competency-embedded learning experiences.

In short, educational transfer is the path to competency. Transfer is the ability of a person to use knowledge and skills independently in novel, unfamiliar situations. However, the path to transfer has been riddled with failure over the last 100 years. A review of the research reveals that transfer is difficult to achieve, but it's not impossible. Education for Life and Work states:
Research to date suggests that despite our desire for broad forms of transfer, knowledge does not transfer very readily, but it also illuminates instructional conditions that support forms of transfer that are desirable and attainable.
It is important to note that there are two different types of transfer: specific and general. Specific transfer, sometimes called near transfer, happens when learning is used in two different situations, but commonalities exist. General transfer, on the other hand, happens when the initial learning broadly applies to lots of different situations or contexts. Obviously, general transfer is the ultimate goal, and it is no easy feat!

General transfer relies on the use of broad competencies to tackle new problems. Essentially, transfer is the thread that connections competencies to independent performance. 

Consider this flow:
learning experiences embedded with competencies ---> transfer to novel situations ---> meaningful learning

In our classroom designs, the fastest way to get to transfer is to abandon our "love of content." (Especially content for the sake of content.) Moje, one of the authors cited in the NAP report, argues that students' understanding of how knowledge is produced in the subject areas is more important than the knowledge itself.

So, knowing how a discipline works (i.e. the language/world of math) is much more important than mastering many different pieces of content. Think about the implications this holds for the design of curricula, generally. Given that it is more important for students to grapple with meaningful problems using a variety of competencies, how will you spend your time? Knowing that rote learning does not promote transfer (our link between the competencies and meaningful learning), how will you reduce the amount of time students spend purely acquiring knowledge and skills?

Simply stated, we must reevaluate how we spend time in our classrooms. Do we give students opportunities to transfer independently after competency-embedded learning experiences? If not, how can we change that?

Tomorrow's post will explore specific curricular designs that promote EDUCATIONAL TRANSFER. Stay tuned.

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