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The formal discipline (or mental discipline) approach to learning believed that specific mental faculties could be strengthened by particular courses of training and that these strengthened faculties transferred to other situations, based on faculty psychology which viewed the mind as a collection of separate modules or faculties assigned to various mental tasks. This approach resulted in school curricula that required students to study subjects such as mathematics and Latin in order to strengthen reasoning and memory faculties.

Disputing formal discipline, Edward Thorndike and Robert S. Woodworth in 1901 postulated that the transfer of learning was restricted or assisted by the elements in common between the original context and the next context. The notion was originally introduced as transfer of practice. They explored how individuals would transfer learning in one context to another similar context and how "improvement in one mental function" could influence a related one. Their theory implied that transfer of learning depends on how similar the learning task and transfer tasks are, or where "identical elements are concerned in the influencing and influenced function", now known as the identical element theory.Thorndike urged schools to design curricula with tasks similar to those students would encounter outside of school to facilitate the transfer of learning.

In contrast to Thorndike, Edwin Ray Guthrie's law of contiguity expected little transfer of learning. Guthrie recommended studying in the exact conditions in which one would be tested, because of his view that "we learn what we do in the presence of specific stimuli".[1] The expectation is that training in conditions as similar as possible to those in which learners will have to perform will facilitate transfer.

The argument is also made that transfer is not distinct from learning, as people do not encounter situations as blank slates. Perkins and Salomon considered it more a continuum, with no bright line between learning and transfer

Transfer may also be referred to as generalization, B. F. Skinner's concept of a response to a stimulus occurring to other stimuli.

Today, transfer of learning is usually described as the process and the effective extent to which past experiences (also referred to as the transfer source) affect learning and performance in a new situation (the transfer target). However, there remains controversy as to how transfer of learning should be conceptualized and explained, what its prevalence is, what its relation is to learning in general, and whether it exists at all.
Transfer and learning


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