Sameness and Difference in Transfer

What Is Transfer?

Transfer of learning can be described as the process  to which past experiences affect learning and performance in a new situation. Transfer theory is to consider how individuals transfer learning in one context to another similar context.

What Is Learned?

If we think of transfer in terms of considering how learners do something in a situation thanks to having done something similar in a previous situation. From an educational point of view, Marton makes us consider that the learner may be able to do something different in other situations, thanks to perceived differences (and also the similarities) between situations.

So in nursing we may relate to past experience to deal with a clinical situation. This can be a positive aspect where we can be systematic and provide effective and timely interventions. The nurse educator needs to train staff to follow process (such as the A-E of assessment in clinical deterioration), to avoid our ‘priors’ making us think this situation is identical to a past experience, we may miss something new related to this unique situation.

Historical origins and culture of transfer

The Behaviour Paradigm: Thorndike (1913) the human mind makes “particular reactions to particular situations” (pg 249). Do not expect learning something specific to have a general effect on other things. “Learning is conceived as the constitution of bonds between stimuli (features of the environment) and responses (reactions of the learner)”.

The Cognitivist Approach: Judd (1908) where learning involves the constitution of more and more powerful representations of the world around us.

The Functionalist View: Lave (1988) provides the metaphor of knowledge, as a set of tools stored in the memory of the learner for use in different situations.

Situated learning suggests that what surrounds the learning event is also important in understanding learning.


“Transfer is about people being able to do similar things in different sitautions because of similarities between those situations. The key aim is that “by learning (now) how to learn (in the future), learners will be better able to cope with novel situations”.


Marton, F. (2006). Sameness and difference in transfer. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15(4), 499-535.