competencies that enable learners to transfer what they have learned to new situations and new problems. These competencies include both knowledge in a domain and knowledge of how, why, and when to apply this knowledge to answer questions and solve problems—integrated forms of knowledge that we refer to as 21st century competencies and discuss further below.
If the goal of instruction is to prepare students to accomplish tasks or solve problems exactly like the ones addressed during instruction, then deeper learning is not needed. For example, if someone’s job calls for adding lists of numbers accurately, that individual needs to learn to become proficient in using the addition procedure but does not need deeper learning about the nature of number and number theory that will allow transfer to new situations that involve the application of mathematical principles. As discussed in the previous chapter, today’s technology has reduced demand for such routine skills (e.g., Autor, Levy, and Murnane, 2003). Success in work and life in the 21st century is associated with cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal competencies that allow individuals to adapt effectively to changing situations rather than to rely solely on well-worn procedures.
When the goal is to prepare students to be able to be successful in solving new problems and adapting to new situations, then deeper learning is called for. Calls for such 21st century skills as innovation, creativity, and creative problem solving can also be seen as calls for deeper learning—helping students develop transferable knowledge that can be applied to solve new problems or respond effectively to new situations. Before turning to a discussion of the relationship between deeper learning and 21st century competencies in terms of theories and research on learning and knowing and the implications for transfer, we briefly discuss some of the rich history of work on the nature and extent of transfer.
Brief Historical Overview of Theory and Research on Transfer
Transfer was one of the first topics on the research agendas of both psychology and education, and it has remained as perhaps the central topic in the research on learning and instruction for more than 100 years. 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.
Specific transfer is the idea that learning A affects one’s learning of B only to the extent that A and B have elements in common. For example, learning Latin may help someone learn Spanish solely because some of the vocabulary words are very similar and the verb conjugations are very similar. In contrast, general transfer is the idea that learning A affects one’s learning of B because learning A strengthens general characteristics or