Applies methods and approaches for the transfer of knowledge and values in the learning processDesigning Educational ProgrammesSkills to transfer knowledge and related values to the group of learnersTransferring knowledge or values related to the activity to the learners

Transfer of Learning: Types and Theories

The word transfer is used to describe the effects of past learning upon present acquisition. In the laboratory and the outside world, how well and how rapidly we learn anything depends to a large extent upon the kinds and amount of things we have learned previously and of the experiences and emotions we went through.


The concept of transferability of learning has different aspects and can be defined by situation, context, and behaviors.


The main purpose of any learning or education is that a person who acquires some knowledge or skill in a formal or structured situation like a classroom, or a training situation, will be able to transfer such knowledge and skills to real-life situations and adapt himself more effectively.

The purpose of any teaching-learning interaction is to bring about a generalization and application of what has been learned in specific situations to real-life situations and acquire a general capacity to adapt.

There are three types of transfer of learning:

1. Positive transfer:

When learning in one situation facilitates learning in another situation, it is known as a positive transfer. For example, skills in playing the violin facilitate learning to play the piano. Knowledge of mathematics facilitates to learn physics in a better way. Driving a scooter facilitates driving a motorbike.

2. Negative transfer:

When learning of one task makes the learning of another task harder- it is known as a negative transfer. For example, speaking Telugu hindering the learning of Malayalam.

Left-hand drive vehicles hindering the learning of right-hand drive.

3. Neutral transfer:

When learning of one activity neither facilitates or hinders the learning of another task, it is a case of neutral transfer. It is also called as zero transfer.

Two important theories explain the transfer of learning. These are known as modern theories.

1. Theory of identical elements:

This theory has been developed by E.L.Thorndike. According to him most of the transfer occurs from one situation to another in which there are most similar or identical elements.

This theory explains that carrying over from one situation to another is roughly proportional to the degree of resemblance in a situation, in other words- more the similarity, more the transfer.

The degree of transfer increases as the similarity of elements increases. For example, learning to ride a moped is easy after learning to ride a bicycle. Here, the transfer is very fast because of identical elements in both vehicles.

2. Theory of generalization of experience:

This theory was developed by Charles Judd. Theory of generalization assumes that what is learned in task ‘A’ transfers to task ‘B’ because in studying ‘A’, the learner develops a general principle which applies in part or completely in both ‘A’ and ‘B’.

Experiences, habits, knowledge gained in one situation help us to the extent to which they can be generalized and applied to other situations.

Generalization consists of perceiving and understanding what is common to many situations. The ability of individuals to generalize knowledge varies with the degree of their intelligence.


How to apply it in everyday work

In my training design, how do I take into consideration to use both theories: Theory of identical elements and Theory of generalization of experience.

Think about your next training activity and identify at least 1 session that can fit with the process defined in the theory of identical elements and 1 session that can fit with the elements of the generalization experience.

Which of them, in your opinion, are more coherent with the process of Non-Formal Education? Do you see elements that can diverge or are they most in line with the principles of Non-Formal Education?

Reflection Questions:

  • Do I pay attention to the process of transferability of learning?
  • In which way and when do I focus on how the learning is happening and which were my successful tools to make it happen?

Federica Demicheli

A training focusing on participation as methodology (not only as topic) is based on a certain value premise that believes in the empowerment of all the learners and supporting the equal participation of the ones with fewer opportunities or in situations of disatatage (temporary or long term). The focus of participatory training is not just about ‘knowing more’ but about…

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