Transfer Of Learning

Transfer of learning

This section looks at the different forms of transfer. Practical examples of their uses are also included. (Equivalent to UK A Level Physical Education)


Learning or regularly performing a skill can affect, either positively or negatively, the learning of a second skill.

Positive Transfer

This usually occurs when the two skills in question are similar in some way. Having already mastered one of the skills makes learning the second skill easier. Coaches can aid this positive transfer by making sure the individual understands the similarities between the two skills and by making sure that the basics of the first skill are well learned so that they transfer more easily into the second skill. An example of this is a tennis player using their knowledge of a serve to help them learn the overarm serve in volleyball.

Negative Transfer

This occurs when having learned one skill, makes learning the second skill more difficult. This more often happens when a stimulus common to both skills requires a different response. For example, a squash player who takes up tennis may find it difficult to learn to not use their wrist during shots.

Negative transfer can be avoided by making sure the athlete is aware of the differences and making practice sessions similar to match situations to ensure a larger, generalised motor programme.

Transfer of skills can work both ways, in that, a skill currently being learned may affect a skill previously learned, or a skill learned in the past may affect a skill currently being learned.

Proactive Transfer

A skill learned in the past affects a skill currently being learned or to be learned in the future

Retroactive Transfer

Learning a new skill affects a previously learned skill.

Bilateral Transfer

Where the learning of one skill is transferred from one limb to the other e.g. a footballer learning to pass with their left foot when they have previously learned this skill with their right foot.

Zero Transfer

Where there are no transferable elements between previously learned skills and the new ones about to be learned e.g. bowling in cricket and skipping.

Stimulus Generalisation

The transfer of previously learned skills to a new situation can sometimes be generalised rather than specific to the situation. For example, a performer who has learned to catch a ball playing rugby may react to catching any ball in the same way. This is not always a positive thing as in a different situation (e.g. football) catching the ball is not within the rules of the game!

Response Generalisation

When a performer has well learned a skill they can begin to adapt the skill to vary it. An example is in cricket where a bowler will vary his or her delivery to try to unsettle the batsman.

Six categories of skill transfer have been identified:

  1. Transfer between skills – such as all racket sports
  2. Practice to performance – transferring skills learned in training to a competitive environment
  3. Abilities linked to skills – balance to perform a good landing in gymnastics
  4. Limb to limb (bilateral) – striking a football with the right or left foot
  5. Principle to skill – the principles of defensive play in rugby are similar to football
  6. Stages of learning – skills that are learned in the cognitive phase will then be built upon in the associative phase
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