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Transfer of Learning from Video Game Play to the Classroom

DEBRA A. LIEBERMAN, ERICA BIELY, CHAN L. THAI, AND SUSANA PEINADO

Introduction

Transfer, also called transfer of learning, occurs when prior knowledge and skills (transfer source) that were learned in one context, are applied to a new but somewhat similar task (transfer target) in a new context (Mayer & Wittrock, 1996; Perkins & Salomon, 1992; Salomon & Perkins, 1989). Essentially, transfer involves using existing knowledge and skills to learn, solve problems, or carry out a new task in a new situation. For example, people who speak Spanish could use their knowledge of that language to learn and speak another Romance language, such as Italian. People who play tennis could use their skills in that sport to learn and play another racquet sport, such as racquetball.

An extensive body of research has defined and examined (1) types of transfer; (2) conditions under which transfer is most likely to occur; (3) cognitive processes that are associated with successful transfer; and (4) methods of instructional design and teaching that can equip learners with the skills and inclinations to transfer their learning to new settings (see Barnett, this volume; Barnett & Ceci, 2002; Mayer, 1999; Mayer & Wittrock, 1996; Perkins & Salomon, 1987, 1992; Schunk, 2004). In this chapter we discuss the fourth area, methods of instructional design and teaching, and we particularly look at instructional design methods that might be used in video games potentially to motivate and support transfer from video game-based learning to academic performance at school. Scholars have identified several types of transfer, and we discuss a few here.

Near transfer happens when the transfer source and target are similar, such as the examples of using prior knowledge of Spanish to learn and speak Italian, and using prior skills in tennis to learn and play racquetball. In these cases, there is obvious overlap between the transfer source and transfer target, and the learning contexts are similar. Far transfer, however, is more difficult to achieve because the source and target do not clearly overlap and the original setting is highly dissimilar to the transfer setting. Explicit coaching and guidance may be necessary to enable far transfer to occur (Barnett & Ceci, 2002; Schunk, 2004). For example, using prior knowledge of tennis to learn how to play baseball instead of racquet- ball would involve far transfer because tennis and baseball are more dissimilar. People who transfer their tennis skills to baseball must identify basic sports skills and strategies they have learned in tennis that are in some less-obvious ways similar in both games, such as how to keep one’s eye on the ball; how to swing effectively even though swing mechanics, equipment, playing fields, and rules are different in each game; how to move in tricky ways that can make the opponent inaccurately anticipate one’s next move; and other skills the two games have in common that some individuals may discover on their own and others may recognize only when a coach points them out.

Low-road (or reflexive) transfer involves the use of well-established skills that are so ingrained that they are easily triggered and occur in an automatic way. High-road (or mindful) transfer involves abstracting prior knowledge and applying it to another context, consciously searching for associations between contexts that are hard to recognize. Both low-road and high-road transfer can work together even though their mechanisms are different (Mayer & Wittrock, 1996; Perkins & Salomon, 1992; Salomon & Perkins, 1989).

Positive transfer takes place when knowledge and skills acquired in the source context enhance learning and performance in the target context. Negative transfer occurs when prior learning in the source context hinders or delays learning and performance in the target context, or when prior knowledge is not applied appropriately (Cree & Macaulay, 2000).

There are other types of transfer, such as vertical, horizontal, literal, and fig- ural (Ormrod, 2004; Schunk, 2004) although in many cases the definitions are not entirely distinct from each other and the terms are not always defined consistently. This situation has made it challenging to synthesize research on transfer or to identify trends because it is difficult or impossible to compare research findings when studies have defined and operationalized transfer in different ways (see Barnett & Ceci, 2002). Several taxonomies of transfer have been published (Barnett & Ceci, 2002; Butterfield, 1988; Detterman, 1993; Gagne, 1977; Reeves & Weisberg, 1994; Salomon & Perkins, 1989; Schunk, 2004; Singley & Anderson, 1989). Schunk (2004) notes that the taxonomies tend to focus on describing features of the various types of transfer but they often fail to define the process of transfer in each case or the optimal conditions needed for each type of transfer to occur. As a result, many transfer taxonomies offer an excessive number of labels without describing the underlying processes that would make a clear distinction between each type. However, we can extract from the research some general insights about conditions that foster transfer and align them with features of video games that could be used potentially to create those conditions.

 
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