Mechanisms of knowledge transfer

Thinking and Reasoning 15 (1):1 – 36 (2009)
Abstract
A central goal of cognitive science is to develop a general theory of transfer to explain how people use and apply their prior knowledge to solve new problems. Previous work has identified multiple mechanisms of transfer including (but not limited to) analogy, knowledge compilation, and constraint violation. The central hypothesis investigated in the current work is that the particular profile of transfer processes activated for a given situation depends on both (a) the type of knowledge to be transferred and how it is represented, and (b) the processing demands of the transfer task. This hypothesis was investigated in two laboratory training studies. The results from Experiment 1 show that each mechanism predicts specific behavioural patterns of performance across a common set of transfer tasks. The results from Experiment 2 show that people can adaptively shift between transfer mechanisms depending on their prior knowledge and the characteristics of the task environment. A framework for the development of a general theory of transfer based on multiple mechanisms is proposed and implications of the theory are discussed for measuring and understanding knowledge transfer
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