Learning Transfer as Preparation for Novel Learning Challenges: A Phenomenological Study of Computer and Video Game Performance

O'Suilleabhain, G. (2014) Learning Transfer as Preparation for Novel Learning Challenges: A Phenomenological Study of Computer and Video Game Performance. In: The 15th Educational Technology Conference of the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA). May 29th and 30th, UCD, Dublin, Ireland.


The transfer of learning has been the subject of research and debate since the time, at least, of the publication of seminal articles by Thorndike and Woodworth (1901) with regard to the conditions governing its occurrence. Over the intervening period there has been some extensive research into the phenomenon, incorporating a wide and changing range of theoretical perspectives. Despite such attention, however, examples of successful facilitation of transfer – beyond transfer of the largely automatic kind between highly similar learning and target contexts – are a relative rarity in the research literature. As Bereiter puts it, Most research on transfer has been bad news for educators. It gives the impression that transfer usually doesn't happen… (1995, p. 26). This paper returns to the now often overlooked empirical and theoretical problems with regard to our native ideas of learning transfer by turning, first, toward the world of so-called serious-games and other interaction-rich TEL environments and the implicit folk theories and tacit beliefs about learning transfer embodied in their design. Based, in part, on the affordances of and existing research into such solutions and environments, the paper goes on to suggest a more dynamic and active way to think about learning transfer, borrowing from contemporary reconceptualisations of literacy and the notion of transfer as preparation for future learning (Bransford & Schwartz, 1999). The paper reports on how this alternative reading of the learning transfer problem was operationalised in a study of computer and video game players of varying levels of past experience as they made their way through a series of novel learning challenges. By contrast to the quantitative experimental tradition within which learning transfer research still tends to be conducted, the study is avowedly a qualitative and phenomenological one. Key data gathering methods are those of concurrent think aloud and retrospective stimulated recall. Analysis culminates in a model of transfer based around the interplay of four articulated constructs – those of performance, preparedness, new learning, and felt experience. The paper concludes with some reflections on the validity and limitations of the study findings and some possible implications for practice and policy incorporating, in turn, reflections on the implication of the model for key political rhetoric with regard to lifelong learning, key skills, and digital literacy. Some final ideas are offered with regard to new e-assessment approaches to dynamic performance-based student assessment and, ultimately, to the development of more effective serious game and TEL solutions.

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