What Is the Transfer of Learning in Psychology?


Transfer of learning is when information or skills learned in one context are transferred or applied to another context. Psychologists use the phrase to refer to the transfer of knowledge from a classroom setting to a real-world or testing setting and to the transfer of knowledge from one field of learning to an entirely different field.

Applying What You Learned

  • In a paper republished by Harvard University, David N. Perkins and Gavriel Solomon explain that transfer of learning can apply to such similar contexts as driving a car and driving a truck. While they are different types and sizes of vehicles, the skills learned with one might make it easier to learn to drive the other. They call this “near transfer.” "Far transfer” of learning occurs when someone applies skills learned at, for instance, playing chess to something that seems different, such as financial investment. A skill crucial to transfer of learning is abstraction, according to Perkins and Solomon. Research by Robert L. Goldstone and Samuel B. Day, published in “Educational Psychologist,” demonstrates that this transfer can prove difficult. They cite a study showing that students could not abstract geometry problems about calculating a drop from a tower to a problem about a drop into a well, although the concepts were the same.


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