understanding of the structure of the problem and the solution method) leads to transfer, while rote learning does not (Katona, 1940).

Building on the research of the Gestalt psychologists, we can distinguish between different types of tests and the learning they measure. Retention tests are designed to assess learners’ memory for the presented material using recall tasks (e.g., “What is the definition of deeper learning?”) or recognition tasks (e.g., “Which of the following is not part of the definition of deeper learning? A. learning that facilitates future learning, B. learning that facilitates future problem solving, C. learning that promotes transfer, D. learning that is fun.”). While retention and recognition tests are often used in educational settings, experimental psychologists use transfer tests to assess learners’ ability to use what they learned in new situations to solve problems or to learn something new (e.g., “Write a transfer test item to evaluate someone’s knowledge of deeper learning.”).

Although using the senses to attend to relevant information may be all that is required for success on retention tasks, success on transfer tasks requires deeper processing that includes organizing new information and integrating it with prior knowledge in one’s mind (see Figure 4-1). This deeper cognitive process develops 21st century skills—knowledge in a learner’s long-term memory that can be used in new situations.

Results from the two different types of assessments can be used to distinguish between three different types of learning outcomes—no learning, rote learning, and meaningful learning (see Table 4-1; also Mayer, 2010). No learning is indicated by poor performance on retention and transfer tests. Rote learning is indicated by good retention performance and poor transfer performance. Meaningful learning (which also could be called deeper learning) is indicated by good retention performance and good transfer performance. Thus the distinguishing feature of meaningful learning (or deeper learning) is the learner’s ability to transfer what was learned to new situations.

TABLE 4-1 Three Types of Learning Outcomes

Type of Outcome Retention Performance Transfer Performance
No learning Poor Poor
Rote learning Good Poor
Meaningful (deeper) learning Good Good

SOURCE: R.E. Mayer, Applying the science of learning, 1st edition, © 2010. Reprinted (2010) by permission of Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ.

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