Transfer of Learning: What is it?

Transfer of Learning strategies help students take course learning and apply it (and hopefully refine it) after the instruction is completed. Put another way, with regard to learning, what happens in a class should never stay in the class.

Why do it?

Learning needs to influence and enhance learner behavior outside of class. Why? Providing students with the tools to implement and refine the skills developed in a course of instruction is central to aiding a student’s academic success and professional development.

The National Research Council classic How People Learn suggests, “Traditional education has tended to emphasize memorization and mastery of text. Research on the development of expertise, however, indicates that more than a set of general problem-solving skills or memory for an array of facts is necessary to achieve deep understanding.”

Developing and employing strategies that transfer learning extends the learning past the classroom for real world use where the skill(s) can be applied, reflected on, and refined…the foundation of experience.  Using transfer of learning activities also assist in actively processing new information through the active working memory into the long term memory for storage and retrieval.

How to do it?

The ideas and resources to implement meaningful and useful transfer of learning activities are limited only to your imagination.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Create a “Toolkit” of important concepts, key ideas, specialized skills and/or lessons learned
  • Develop a list of best practices or best practices portfolio
  • Build a personalized Guidebook or Manual
  • Write an application log/journal
  • Develop a fact sheet on key topics
  • Create a “Quick Study” style guide. For examples, visit:
  • Make Graphic Training Aids (aka “Troop card”) style learning aids. For examples visit:

These activities require the learners to have adequate component skills (skills required to carry out the assigned task) along with well-developed instructions, rationale for the activity and perhaps a few examples if possible.

In addition to the transfer activity, a plan of action to implement the new learning helps the learner put the new learning into play out in the real world and may help create a positive “climate for transfer” (Noe, 2010). 


National Research Council. (2000). How People Learn.  National Academy Press, Washington D.C.

Noe, R. (2010). Employee Training and Development.  McGraw-Hill, New York, New York.

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