A Taxonomy For Transfer, Learners Can Transfer What They Know is a classification system put forth by researchers to show how learners can transfer knowledge from one domain to a new domain. It is broken down into different ways that learners can transfer their learning, such as analogizing, recognizing patterns, and forming mental models.

The aim of this taxonomy is to provide researchers with a tool for better understanding how individuals learn and how best to support this learning in practice.

Use of Knowledge Transfer Theory

Based on various theories, previous research has examined a wide range of variables influencing student learning outcomes. Knowledge transfer theory seeks to investigate the correlation between different factors of a structural model that involves knowledge transfer, student orientation, and absorptive capacity by fusing together elements of marketing and management with studies in higher education. It builds upon prior studies that have considered various theories to analyze the factors that contribute to student learning outcomes. 

This study focused on Taiwanese university students, selecting 873 of them through purposive sampling. PLS-SEM (SmartPLS) was used to analyze the data, confirming that knowledge transfer and student orientation significantly affect student absorbance capacities and learning outcomes.

It also suggests that prior knowledge acts as a positive moderator for the relationship between knowledge transfer and absorptive capacities. The researchers suggested feasible solutions and further research based on their findings.

Types of transfer of learning

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1. Positive Transfer

When learning in one situation improves the ability to learn in another situation, it is referred to as a positive transfer. 

For instance, playing the violin can help in learning the piano, knowledge of mathematics can support learning physics, and driving a scooter facilitates driving a motorbike. Negative transfer occurs when learning in one area makes learning in another area more difficult.

2. Neutral transfer

Neutral transfer, or zero transfer, takes place when learning in one area neither helps or hinders the learning of another

What is Transfer?

The transfer is the act of utilizing knowledge and meaning from a known context in an unfamiliar one. It takes cognitive effort for a student to separate the knowledge from its context, and then apply it elsewhere. According to Professor Lucas Watson, who is a psychology expert at CDR Writers Australia, we cannot just tell students to transfer knowledge, instead, it must be done through design by providing multiple learning opportunities for them to show their understanding and make deeper meaning by transferring what they know.

The transfer is essential, but let us start by considering the learners, thinking about their environments, and hoping for them to apply their understanding on their initiative, in various physical and digital settings. 

Transferring knowledge is an important skill for success in the 21st century, and it is essential to design learning opportunities that enable students to do this effectively. It is not enough to simply tell them to transfer their knowledge, but rather create learning activities that allow them to develop their own understanding, and then apply this understanding in multiple contexts. This allows them to learn in their own way, expanding the depth of their knowledge, and strengthening their skills in transfer. 


Electrical engineering students are introduced to circuitry and electricity in their introductory course. The professor brings real-world products into the classroom for students to practice their knowledge by deconstructing and rebuilding them. Similarly, Public health students learn about tracking the spread of influenza in an urban American community, and during spring break they travel abroad and do field work analyzing the spread of another virus in a rural area, utilizing the concepts and theories discussed in class.

Different cognitive activities for learning

Students usually need to do four different cognitive activities for learning to be transferred effectively:

1. figure out what the question is asking and determine which answers or approaches make sense

2. select the most relevant prior knowledge from viable options

3. try out a procedure, changing it if needed depending on the context or phraseology

4. adjust their response, maybe when faced with an unfamiliar or unusual environment

Why Is Transfer Important?

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A transfer is often viewed in terms of assessment as a measure of understanding. However, when approached from a different perspective, a transfer can be used to design a variety of projects, lessons, units, performance tasks, curriculum maps, self-directed learning projects, and more.

This encourages students to ask questions such as, “What do I know?”, “How do I know it?” and “Where and how can I use what I know?”. A transfer is fundamentally about recognizing the value of information, but also involves adapting and moving knowledge to new contexts. To further personalize and enrich learning, we can identify various types of cognitive transfers, allowing students to experience more meaningful learning opportunities.

By recognizing different types of cognitive transfer, students can gain an understanding of how to apply their acquired knowledge to new contexts. This facilitates a more individualized and creative learning experience, as well as encourages students to think critically about the information they possess. Through this approach, students develop the ability to successfully transfer their knowledge from one area to another with confidence.

Tips for Transferring Knowledge

  • Students can better transfer their knowledge when they understand concepts that organize, guide and explain content and skills.
  • Teachers can create activities that link topics with deeper relationships, shared functions, or similar ideas. Deeper learning requires students to use more rigorous thinking than memorizing, practicing skills, or test prep. 
  • Teachers can provide different scenarios, formulas, or readings and ask students to use the same approach to solve or analyze them. 
  • Case studies may be used to challenge students to use a variety of skills and knowledge to tackle similar but not identical problems.
  • Give your students guidance and structure by creating a roadmap of all your intended learning topics and connecting the dots between them. Encourage them to articulate relationships between different classes. 
  • Help your students construct their learning by assessing and building on what they already know. Make the process explicit for them and teach them how to link their knowledge together. 
  • Let your students know the reasons behind the activities and assignments that promote transfer. Help them recognize the benefits of transfer and how it can benefit their career. Explain how transfer can help with future learning.