well they could transfer their knowledge about the control-of-variables procedures. The three assessments were designed to be increasingly “distant” from the materials used during the training.
“Very near transfer”: This assessment was in the same domain as was the initial exposure (e.g., children trained on ramps were asked to design additional experiments using ramps).
“Near transfer”: In this assessment, children initially exposed to one domain (e.g., springs) were asked to design experiments in a different domain (e.g., ramps).
“Far transfer”: Here, children were presented with a task that was amenable to the same control-of-variables strategy but had different surface features (e.g., paper-and-pencil assessments of good and bad experimental designs in domains outside physics).
Two points are central to the present discussion:
The targets of assessment were three factors: tendency to subsequently use the control-of-variables strategy in the instructional context, in near-transfer contexts, and in far-transfer contexts. All the tasks were carefully designed to make it possible to determine whether a child used the strategy.
Whether a task was an example task, a near-transfer task, or a far-transfer task was not a property of the task, but of the match between the task and the student. Tasks were even counterbalanced within groups with regard to which was the teaching example and which was the near-transfer task.
The results of the study showed clear differences among groups across the different kinds of tasks: negligible differences on the repeat of the task on which a child had been instructed; a larger difference on the near-transfer task, favoring children who had been taught the strategy; and a difference again favoring these children on far-transfer tasks, which turned out to be difficult for almost all the children. What is important here is that no such pattern could have emerged if the researchers had simply administered the post test task to all students without knowing either the training that constituted the first half of the experiment or the match between each child’s post test task and the training he or she had received. The evidence is not in the task performance data, but in the evaluation of those data in light of other information the researchers possessed about the students.