In Part II of “Why They Don’t Apply What They’ve Learned” (CHE, 2/19/13), James Lang observes:
Whatever subject you are teaching, you probably believe your students will transfer that knowledge or those skills to at least some of their subsequent courses or to their lives after graduation. But the research on this topic could not be clearer on the difficulty that humans have with knowledge transfer, especially in new or introductory learning environments.
Lang cites the work of Susan Ambrose et. al. in How Learning Works (Jossey-Bass, 2010) and Ken Bain in What the Best College Teachers Do (Harvard, 2004) and What the Best College Students Do (Belknap, 2012).
I believe we too easily equate teaching with learning–I know I do–and consistently underestimate what is required to promote deep learning, or “far transfer.” Among the factors that Bain, in particular, points to for long-term learning is the importance of big questions at the center of our educational experiences, questions that enable us to connect materials from different courses and domains.
So what works? In the weeks ahead, I will post (and invite you to contribute) strategies that studies in the scholarship of teaching and learning indicate have a positive effect. In the meantime, feel free to post responses to Lang’s article below.