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Transfer of Learning Transformed


  • I am grateful for the comments of two anonymous referees and for the skillful organization and editing of my colleagues, Nick Ellis, Alister Cumming, and Lourdes Ortega.

Diane Larsen-Freeman, English Language Institute, University of Michigan, 555 South Forest, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. E-mail:


Instruction is motivated by the assumption that students can transfer their learning, or apply what they have learned in school to another setting. A common problem arises when the expected transfer does not take place, what has been referred to as the inert knowledge problem. More than an academic inconvenience, the failure to transfer is a major problem, exacting individual and social costs. In this article, I trace the evolution of research on the transfer of learning, in general, and on language learning, in particular. Then, a different view of learning transfer is advanced. Rather than learners being seen to “export” what they have learned from one situation to the next, it is proposed that learners transform their learning. The article concludes by offering some suggestions for how to mitigate the inert knowledge problem from this perspective.