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Transfer of learning

A page within CATL Teaching Improvement Guide

Brief Description

Transfer of learning is the application of knowledge and skills learned in one situation to a different situation. You learn arithmetic in grade school and then use those skills in later mathematics courses as well as in everyday contexts. In some sense almost all learning involves transfer. But, one of the most common complaints among teachers is that students often fail to transfer what they have learned, e.g., students learn statistics in one course and then are not able to use that knowledge effectively in other classes.


  1. Help students achieve initial learning. A major cause of transfer failure is that students have a poor grasp of the concept or skills. Poorly understood concepts do not transfer. Deep learning prepares student to transfer.

  2. Practice transfer. Use low stakes application exercises. If transfer is an important goal in your class, then students should have opportunities to practice applying what they learn to new problems and situations. Moreover, practicing application can enhance students’ understanding of the content. 

  3. Expose students to concepts or procedures in multiple contexts. Research indicates that knowledge and skills tend to be context bound. Exposing students to knowledge and procedures in multiple contexts promotes the view that knowledge is relevant in different circumstances.

  4. Make conditions of applicability explicit. Take time periodically to identify and describe where and when the subject matter applies to other subjects, problems and contexts outside the class.

  5. Create bridging experiences between classes. To bridge the gap between courses, create bridging experiences or assignments for students before they start your course. Think of these as focused reviews that remind students of what they already know and point to where their knowledge will be relevant in your class.

Tips to Implement Support for Transfer of Learning Effectively

  • Transfer is more likely to occur if instructors use multiple transfer strategies that involve students in using knowledge and skills in new circumstances. 


Cerbin, W. (2015). Transfer of learning. In Teaching Improvement Guide. University of Wisconsin at La Crosse Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from