The problem of transfer

The game of chess revolves around strategy.

Chess grandmasters are excellent strategic thinkers. However, we don’t put a bunch of chess grandmasters in charge of formulating a company’s corporate strategy. We know that strategic thinking on the chessboard does not translate well into strategic thinking in a different domain. It would be absurd to assume that it does.

Yet, we fall for the same trap when we deal with classroom education. In our classrooms, we are taught to solve theoretical problems and case-studies that are often divorced from the real world. Our assumption is that these classroom sessions give us generic problem solving skills that we can directly apply to real-life situations.

Alas, as Scott H. Young outlines in Ultralearning, Transfer of learning – the ability to learn in one domain and transfer it to another – is a notorious problem in education. Several studies have shown that whatever is learnt in the classroom stays largely in the classroom.

As a thought experiement, think of 5 concepts you learnt in school, and consider how often you apply them in real life. Then take 5 skills you have acquired in the real world and try linking them to what you learnt inside a classroom.

To deal with the probelm of Transfer of learning, we need to ensure that our classroom sessions resemble the real-world as closely as possible. Needless to say, the most effective classroom is the real-world itself.

Inspiration: Ultralearning

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