Learning transfer, the application of knowledge and skills learned in a training course into the workplace, is a recurring and unresolved issue in corporate training. And the end of week 1 of the course, I am beginning to see how the idea of transfer appears in different and often troubling variations. The term transfer nows seem dangerously misleading.
Setting aside the idea of transfer as learning application, there is the idea of transfer as disembodied knowledge. Hence, knowledge can be transferred from trainer to trainee, and that to to improve work performance, it is enough that trainees attend a course. Designing courses that that are based on memorization of facts and repetition (both useful in some contexts but not all) assume that knowledge can be decontextualized, or that knowledge decontextualized has value.
Bayne (2014) points out more subtle variations in her critique of technology-enhanced learning, citing the unquestioned use of productivity tools to improve teaching and learning. I believe that these are related to learning transfer because they both lead to a tendency to ignore the contexts and purposes of learning.
I think that transfer, in the sense of decontextualised knowledge, is synonymous with copy-pasting files. Hence, there is the more crude idea but equally troubling idea that face-to-face training courses can be transferred online — all it requires is uploading learning materials to a server, and making them available anytime, anywhere.
Transfer, in the sense of implantable memories, is one of the themes of the short film, Memory 2.0. In the film, the protagonist frequents a local shop in order to relive memories of a previous relationship. (Incidentally, purchasing for memories–and by extension, knowledge and learning–reminds me of off-the shelf e-learning courses.) Learning transfer is also more explicitly mentioned in the Matrix movies, especially the scenes where Neo learns martial arts and helipcoter driving as fast as the operator can flip a switch.
Hayles (1999) traces these ideas in the history of cybernetics. Viewing the physical world as built on some kind of informational code allowed the separation of the material world from the information that underlies it. Information then becomes disembodied, separate from the flesh that contains it. Returning to pop culture references, this is the basis of teleportation as popularised in Star Trek movies.
Bayne, S. (2014) What’s the matter with ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’? Learning, Media and Technology, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2014.915851.
Hayles, N. Katherine (1999) Towards embodied virtuality from Hayles, N. Katherine, How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics pp.1-25, 293-297, Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.