On Teaching for Transfer

Scholars who study learning transfer generally differentiate near transfer from far transfer.  

Near transfer refers to a learner’s ability to use their knowledge and skill in settings that are similar to those in which they originally learned. In some training settings (for example learning how to operate hardware or software), the application setting is almost identical to the learning setting, so the transfer is very close. 

Far transfer refers to a learner’s ability to use their knowledge and skills in settings that are dissimilar to those in which they originally learned. 

Near transfer has been relatively well-established. Especially, if instructors help students to build connections and apply new skills to unfamiliar settings, there is evidence that students can transfer learning. Far transfer is generally not observed reliably, however. This suggests faculty are more likely to improve students’ abilities to transfer by helping them develop and apply specific methods within their content areas than if they teach (for example) general problem-solving skills.  

Sala and Gobet (2017) concluded, “educational and professional curriculum should focus on discipline-specific material rather than general principles without any specific reference to a particular subject” and they continue, “the benefits of domain-specific training should not be expected to generalize to other domains.” 


Sala, G., & Gobet, F. (2017). Does Far Transfer Exist? Negative Evidence From Chess, Music, and Working Memory Training. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(6), 515–520.