Transfer Model

A great deal of the most educationally significant work psychologists have done in the past 20 years has been all but ignored by the educational establishment. When teachers stand before students and lecture, they are assuming a model of how students learn which has been shown to be far too simplistic (see Brown et al., 1983, and Greeno, 1980). This model has often been called the "transfer model" of learning. The idea behind this model is that a student is a kind of sponge: give him facts and he will absorb them. A popular version of the transfer model sees the student as a TV viewer. This version is quite in vogue these days, for obvious reasons. The premise behind it is that there is lots of interesting stuff available on television; whether it is appropriate in level or content for a particular child is irrelevant, he ought to watch it anyway when it becomes available.

The transfer model proposes that one learns effectively by being told. No doubt learning occurs in this way sometimes. We can learn by being told. However, we can only learn in this way when we care about, and are ready to hear, whatever it is we are being asked to learn. The real trick to teaching, in fact, is to bring the student to the point where he is ready to hear something. The transfer model, teachers talking at students, is not particularly effective at getting students to that point.

As an alternative, Brown, et al. have shown the value of having children participate in "authentic tasks"; tasks they care about, understand the relevance of, and actively engage in. This view is consonant with the work of Piaget, Bruner, Resnick, and others, who discussed intelligence as actively constructed by a learner, building upon previous knowledge in pursuit of real goals. The learning that occurs outside school always involves "authentic tasks," with real goals and real challenges that children are interested in meeting.

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