Types of Information Transfer

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  • 0:12 What is Transfer of…
  • 1:01 Types of Information…
  • 3:21 Types of Information…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wind Goodfriend
When you acquire one skill, does that ability help or hurt your ability to learn other skills? For example, learning to play the guitar might help you learn to play the banjo, but it probably doesn't affect your ability to learn the geography of Africa. This lesson focuses on transfer of information, including positive, negative and zero transfer, as well as the difference between high-road and low-road transfer of information.

What is Transfer of Information?

Have you ever learned to play a musical instrument? Imagine that you took guitar lessons when you were a child. If you learned to play the guitar, and now you wanted to learn a different musical instrument, do you think your guitar skills would hurt you or help you? When previous knowledge or skills help or hurt your ability to learn something new, that's called transfer of information, and that's the topic of this lesson.

Transfer of information is how skills or knowledge that students have learned about one topic affect their learning of skills or knowledge in another topic or area. Sometimes transfer of information can help students learn more quickly or more easily. However, in other circumstances, transfer of information can hurt learning. Let's talk about several different kinds of transfer of information.

Positive, Negative and Zero Transfer

Transfer of information has been broken down into three major types, which include positive, negative and zero transfer.

Using past musical experience to learn a new instrument is positive transfer
Positive Transfer Example

The first type is positive transfer. Positive transfer is when knowledge or skills about a previous topic help a student learn a new skill or learn about a new topic. I remember that when I was a little girl I learned to play the guitar. A key step to learning any musical instrument is to learn how to read sheet music, such as how the notes spell the word 'FACE' on the paper, indicating the order of notes. So I learned how to read the notes to play the guitar. When I was a little bit older, I started to learn how to play the piano and I realized that the order of notes on the sheet music for piano was the same as the order for guitar! This transfer of information was therefore positive, meaning that the knowledge I had about playing guitar had helped me learn how to play the piano as well.

However, there can also be negative transfer. Negative transfer is when knowledge or skills about a previous topic hurt a student or interfere with learning about a new skill or topic. I have a personal story about negative transfer as well. When I was in college, I started to take martial arts classes in a particular art called Tae Kwon Do. When you learn Tae Kwon Do, you learn to point the toes of your front foot directly toward your opponent. However, a little later I started to take classes in a different martial art, called American Kenpo. In American Kenpo, you don't point your front foot directly toward your opponent because it makes it easier for him or her to break your knee. But I had already formed the habit of pointing my toes, so the skills I had learned in my first martial art actually caused me problems in the second one. This is an example of negative transfer because the habits I had already formed caused me trouble in doing the second skill correctly.

The third and final type of information transfer is called zero transfer. Zero transfer just means that previous skills or information have zero effect on learning new skills or information. In other words, in this case the old information neither helps nor hurts the new information or skill. So, being able to play the piano would have no effect, good or bad, on your ability to learn the geography of Africa. Therefore, the information has zero effect.

Low-Road vs. High-Road

There's a second way to think about different types of transfer of information in addition to the distinction of positive, negative and zero. This second way of thinking about it separates transfer into two groups, called low-road and high-road.

Cars and helicopters are very different yet share similar characteristics
High Road Transfer Example

Low-road transfer refers to the ability to use a previous skill in a new setting that is similar to the setting where the skill was first learned. Let's go through an example. When you first learned how to drive a car, there were a lot of things to get right. You had to learn how to use the dashboard, how much to turn the wheel, how hard to push on the gas and brakes, and so on. You probably practiced driving in a single, specific car until you got comfortable. However, you always knew that you wouldn't be driving that single car forever! Eventually you had to drive a different car. But even though this new car is different, the basic skills you learned in the first car were easily applied to the new car. That's an example of low-road transfer. The skills you learned first were easily applied to the new setting because the new setting was so similar to the first one.

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