Analyses of everyday environments have potential implications for education that are intriguing but need to be thought through and researched carefully. There are many appealing strengths to the idea that learning should be organized around authentic problems and projects that are frequently encountered in nonschool settings: in John Dewey’s vision, “School should be less about preparation for life and more like life itself.” The use of problem-based learning in medical schools is an excellent example of the benefits of looking at what people need to do once they graduate and then crafting educational experiences that best prepare them for these competencies (Barrows, 1985). Opportunities to engage in problem-based learning during the first year of medical school lead to a greater ability to diagnose and understand medical problems than do opportunities to learn in typical lecture-based medical courses (Hmelo, 1995). Attempts to make schooling more relevant to the subsequent workplace have also guided the use of case-based learning in business schools, law schools, and schools that teach educational leadership (Hallinger et al, 1993; Williams, 1992).
The transfer literature also highlights some of the potential limitations of learning in particular contexts. Simply learning to perform procedures, and learning in only a single context, does not promote flexible transfer. The transfer literature suggests that the most effective transfer may come from a balance of specific examples and general principles, not from either one alone.
A major goal of schooling is to prepare students for flexible adaptation to new problems and settings. The ability of students to transfer provides an important index of learning that can help teachers evaluate and improve their instruction. Many approaches to instruction look equivalent when the only measure of learning is memory for information that was specifically presented. Instructional differences become more apparent when evaluated from the perspective of how well the learning transfers to new problems and settings.
Several critical features of learning affect people’s abilities to transfer what they have learned. The amount and kind of initial learning is a key determinant of the development of expertise and the ability to transfer knowledge. Students are motivated to spend the time needed to learn complex subjects and to solve problems that they find interesting. Opportunities to use knowledge to create products and benefits for others are particularly motivating for students.
While time on task is necessary for learning, it is not sufficient for effective learning. Time spent learning for understanding has different consequences for transfer than time spent simply memorizing facts or procedures