Metacognition and Transfer of Learning

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Suppose that a student learns a mathematical procedure such as how to find the area of a parallelogram. Later, when the student is given a parallelogram problem like the one he or she has studied, he or she is able to find its area correctly. In short, the student shows that she can perform well on a retention test. However, when this student is asked to find the area of an unusually shaped parallelogram, he or she looks confused and answers "We haven't had this yet". In short, the student shows that she cannot perform well on a transfer test, which is applying what she has learned to a new situation (Mayer, 2001)

Unfortunately, mastering a component skill is not enough to support non routine problem solving. Students need to know not only what to do, but also when to do it. Therefore, a second ingredient is needed to control and monitor cognitive processes (Hartman, 2001). In other words, the uses of meta-cognitive skills are needed in solving problems (such as the previously mentioned parallelogram problem) and performing well on transfer tests.

This paper will have three focus points. Firstly, the paper will examine the theory and research findings of both concepts; transfer and meta-cognition. Secondly, the paper will explore the relationship between transfer and meta-cognition. Thirdly, the paper will look at the implications the two concepts have on education and learning. Finally, the paper will conclude with a brief summary.

Transfer of Learning

Transfer of learning deals with transferring one's knowledge and skills from one problem-solving situation to another. In recent years, the low and high-road theory on transfer of learning, developed by Salomon and Perkins (1989), has proven to be the contemporary view of how transfer occurs.

Low road transfer

Low road transfer happens when stimulus conditions in the transfer context are sufficiently similar to those in a prior context of learning to trigger well-developed (varied practice) semi-automatic responses (automaticity) (Salomon and Perkins, 1989). For example, suppose that when you were a child and learning to tie your shoes, all of your shoes had black, cotton shoelaces. You mastered tying black, cotton shoelaces. Then you got new shoes. The new shoes were a little bigger, and they had brown, nylon shoe laces. The chances are that you had no trouble in transferring your shoe-tying skills to the new larger shoes with the different shoelaces. This would be a prime example of how low-road transfer would work. A relatively reflexive process, low road transfer figures most in near transfer (in between similar contexts) (Perkins and Salomon, 1992). Other examples in which such automaticity can be achieved is keyboarding, swimming, steering a car, and single-digit arithmetic facts.

High Road Transfer

High-road transfer on the other hand involves cognitive understanding; purposeful and conscious analysis; mindfulness; and application of strategies that cut across disciplines (Perkins and Salomon, 1992). In high-road transfer, there is a deliberate mindful abstraction of an idea that can transfer, and then conscious and deliberate application of the idea when faced with a problem where the idea may be useful (Salomon and Perkins, 1989). Questions that may arise within an individual during mindful abstraction may include what is the general pattern? What is needed? What principles might apply? What is known that might help? Such transfer is not in general automatic. It demands time for exploration and the investment of mental effort. It can easily accomplish far (in between rather different contexts) transfer. For instance, a person new to politics but familiar with chess might carry over the chess principles of control of the center, pondering what it would mean to control the political center. In addition, high-road transfer can occur in one of two ways, forward reaching transfer and backward reaching transfer (Salomon and Perkins, 1992). In...
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