Transfer of Learning

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1. Introduction

Transfer of Learning "That almost magical link between classroom performance and something which is supposed to happen in the real world" - J. M. Swinney. (Everett, 2010)

Transfer of learning occurs when learning in one context or with one set of materials impacts on performance in another context or with other related materials. It is the application of knowledge, attitudes and skills acquired in a curriculum at a university (Perkins, 1992).

Transfer of learning occurs when learning in one context enhances (positive transfer) or undermines (negative transfer) a related performance in another context. Transfer includes near transfer (to closely related contexts and performances) and far transfer (to rather different contexts and performances). (Perkins, 1992).

One of the major concepts in education and learning theory is the transfer of learning concept. Typically the ultimate contexts of application (job, career) diverge prominently from the context of learning (classrooms, exercise books, tests, simple streamlined tasks). As a result, the final goals of education are not realized unless transfer occurs. Furthermore, transfer of knowledge/learning cannot be taken for granted; as it is shown in various studies were often the hoped transfer from learning experiences did not occur (Perkins, 1992).

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In addition, for improving education not only this transfer of learning concept is of importance but also the development of the teaching staff is essential

The topic of this study is to investigate if teachers within the faculty of health medicine and life sciences (FHML) of the University of Maastricht also are aware of this “transfer of learning”.

Additionally, I would like to investigate if the teacher has a certain strategy concerning transfer of learning and is part of a professional development program to improve the teaching aka the transfer of knowledge / learning.

2. Description of the teacher.

Dr. Herman Popeijus, is teaching for about 4 at the University of Maastricht. He is mainly teaching first year students, because since a year he is the unit coordinator of the second unit in the first year of Health Sciences at the FHML. Furthermore he is involved in other units as a tutor or as a skills (or practical) trainer, although this is more in the curriculum of Bio Medical Life Sciences at the FHML. In his role as unit coordinator, Herman, is involved in all aspects of teaching, giving lectures, guiding workgroups and assisting skills training for the first year students.

This interview was held Thursday, 25-03-2010, from 14:00 - 14:20 in the office of the interviewer. The interview was held in Dutch and taped using a digital voice recorder. To have a more natural discussion about the teaching methods and to forget about the voice recorder, the first 5 minutes of the interview were about daily subjects. Although the interviewer had some questions prepared as a guideline to direct the interview. An English translation of the transcript is given in appendix A.

3. Analysis

No one method of content analysis can be used for all types of interview data. Content analysis is a widely used qualitative research technique. Rather than being a single method, current applications of content analysis show three distinct approaches: conventional, directed, or summative (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005). These approaches are used to interpret meaning from the content of text data or transcript data of an interview. In conventional content analysis, coding categories are derived directly from the text data. With a directed approach, analysis starts with a theory or relevant research findings as guidance for initial codes. A summative content analysis involves counting and comparisons, usually of keywords or content, followed by the interpretation of the underlying context. In this paper I choose the directed approach, with guidance for initial codes. The focus of the analysis is to look for strategies and for indication of transfer of knowledge by the teacher. The following codes/chategories were chosen: 1. Personal involvement in teaching; 2. Problems identified by the teacher; 3. Solutions to the problems; 4. Professional development.

4. Results
4.1. Personal involvement in teaching

The teacher gave multiple statements about this topic, as he is a unit coordinator his personal involvement in teaching is very profound. Due to this role, he is also very involved in the content and may feel responsible for the outcome, (e.g. grade of his students). Therefore he is very focused on transfer of knowledge. He is also aware of he's possible short comings, and is interested in the opinions of the students about his teaching method. He tries to check if transfer of knowledge has occurred, coming back in his tutor group on the topic, also repeat essential steps again at the end of the tutor group, or asking directed question during his lectures.

4.2. Problems identified by the teacher

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Although, the teacher mentioned that there are several difficult topics or concepts in his unit, only one example was given, but this was discussed extensively. Furthermore, he was aware that these problems may also be due to the fact that a large part of the students have no prior knowledge of biology and that biology is fundamental for this unit in which he is the unit coordinator.

4.3. Solutions to the problems

The main focus on solving the problems or problem discussed was the use of new electronic aids. Such as available animated movies, which are showing these new concepts or problems in great detail. It has to be noted that the teacher was aware of the shortcomings of this solution. However, the teacher did not mention other options, such as analogies which may be used instead as well.

4.4. Professional development

It became clear from the interview that there is some sort of professional development program available at his organization, but so far he has not got any evaluation. The teacher feels this lack of assistance a great miss. Although he mention that he took action on this point on his own, by assigning to a specific education course, which is provide by his organization. The teacher is very focused on the outcomes from the students, and also gives great value to the evaluations from the students, even though these are most in paper formats and not oral.

5. Conclusion/Advice to the teacher

Dr. H. Popeijus (HP) has a clear view on his unit and what are the problems within this unit, as became clear that for his unit some biology background is necessary. His awareness on teaching is very open and modern; he is incorporating new techniques or features in his lectures. He is open for the opinions of the students and is clearly involved in transfer of knowledge or learning, even though he might not be aware of this.

From various studies is known that the attention span of students is limited in the context of long lectures. The “information transfer” model of the traditional lectures does not match what current cognitive science research tells us of human learning (Middendorf, 1996). So by using additional tools HP is trying to influence the information transfer during his lectures. He also mentions that he is aware of the drawback of using animated movies in his lectures. However, with awareness of the possible drawbacks of the large format, lectures can be used as valuable tools for learning also in a PBL curriculum (Fyrenius, Bergdahl, & Silen, 2005). Furthermore, it might also be helpful to use analogies next to animated movies because it can help students to use the information they already understand to develop an understanding of new concepts. Analogies are comparisons between two domains that are neither, completely similar nor completely different. These comparisons are used to promote transfer of information from one particular problem to another particular problem (MaryKay & George, 2006). Due to the fact that some students lack the biology background it may useful to use analogies which domain is not in biology but in another more basic field (eg. Book with chapters as an analogy for DNA code with genes).

To improve education or the teaching by staff members a high-quality professional development component would be of great value to the organisation as well as addition to the professional development of HP. “It is well recognized by policymakers that schools can be no better than the teachers and administrators who work within them” (Guskey, 2002). It is well known that staff members or faculty members are passionate about their discipline/profession. They are also very keen to transfer their knowledge and the significance of this knowledge to their students. Regardless of these good intentions, they may be so occupied with covering the subject matter that they lose track of how much of that material really gets conveyed (Montgomery, 1998). It is therefore that there are good developmental programs inside the institute or university to develop and change the way the teachers work. For most teachers, to become a better teacher means enhancing students learning outcomes (Guskey, 2002). According to the model from Guskey, important change in teachers' mind-sets take place after the teachers' see evidence of improvements in student learning. When teachers have used new instructional approaches, or using new material these improvements may occur. It is therefore that there is a good evaluations system for the teachers not only on the level of students outcome but also on the performance as a teacher self. An advice to HP is to seek such evaluation and guidance from his own institute or organisation.

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In summary the advice to HP is, keep up with the new innovations in your lectures, but also try to use analogies to clarify some difficult problems and try to find out if the university has some teacher staff development programs to improve the teaching.