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Fostering tudents' Transfer of Learning

Steven C. Pan, M.A.; Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D



To effectively foster transfer, retrieval practice should always be combined with feedback. Combining retrieval practice with feedback not only helps students strengthen the knowledge that they already have; it also helps them fill in gaps in their knowledge. As a result, students will improve their

understanding and be better able to transfer their knowledge. Here we share four feedback strategies that, when combined with retrieval practice, show the most promise at fostering transfer.

Post-retrieval feedback

After retrieval practice, give students the opportunity to review target information (such as a textbook chapter, a lecture video, or other lesson materials). This post-retrieval feedback helps students check whether the information they recalled was correct, and focus on the areas they had difficulty recalling. They will also be better able to integrate what they have retrieved with the rest of the materials to be learned. Improved overall understanding and better transfer of learning can result.

Explanatory, detailed, or self-paced feedback

Feedback which includes a thorough explanation of the correct answer can also be effective at fostering transfer.[5] Such feedback should be detailed in that it connects the correct answer with related concepts.

When students are given sufficient time to learn from explanatory or detailed feedback, they don’t just learn whether they retrieved the answer correctly; they learn about the correct answer and why it is correct. Further, if the feedback contains additional information beyond the initial material to be learned (such as other concepts or examples), then students can also make additional connections with that information. As a result, they are better equipped to apply their knowledge in a transfer situation.

Making the most of feedback

An important caveat is that students have to actively engage in processing feedback in order to reap its benefits. Students must make a serious effort to pay attention and learn when feedback is provided. It is, however, sometimes easy to lose focus when it comes to learning from feedback. To improve student engagement, consider alternating back and forth between periods of retrieval practice and feedback. This helps keep students “on their toes” as they retrieve and study relevant information. Alternatively, you can lead the class in presenting (and discussing) feedback, rather than leaving students to do it on their own.