Dr Cai Longman

Project Title: Investigating transfer of strategic task elements between unique tasks with a common structure

Formal education is founded on the principle that what is learned in the classroom can be applied elsewhere (transfer). Although transfer of learning has been a topic of much debate in the domains of education and psychology, surprisingly little is known about the underlying mechanisms that bring about this remarkable ability.

Where research has investigated transfer of learning, it has tended to focus on the application of knowledge (learning ‘what’) rather than the application of skills (learning ‘how’). The aim of this Carnegie Trust funded project was to systematically investigate what kinds of prior experience are most likely to transfer. For the purposes of this experiment, skills were broken down into perceptual (finding the right information on screen), categorization (working out which category a stimulus belonged to) and motoric (entering a response ‘code’ with the keyboard) components.

Eight different groups of participants were each given a different kind of training that offered them some experience with (depending on the group) the kinds of perceptual, categorization and/or motoric skills used in the test task. That is, each group was given the opportunity to learn a different set of skills that were relevant to the test task (some more relevant than others). All groups were given a comparable task to complete in the test phase (a simple dot-pattern classification task) so that their performance could be directly compared. Better performance in the test task would indicate that more information had transferred.

Subsequent research will apply the knowledge learned about transfer from this tightly controlled lab-based experiment to classroom practice thereby optimising the delivery, retention and application of core skills across the curriculum. Scottish universities could therefore be central to changing the way formal education is delivered across the sector, and this would not be possible without the support of the Carnegie Trust.

Awarded: Research Incentive Grant

Field: Psychology

University: University of the West of Scotland

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