Teaching for Transferability
“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching” (2 Tim. 1:13 NIV).
Teachers spend many hours planning lessons for the classroom. They make outlines, note main points and construct their lectures to be sure they “tell” the students all the important information assuming that the students will diligently take notes and learn the material. To determine if the students learn the material the teachers plan well written examinations. So what? After the exam what then? What becomes of the learning? Will the students remember the material? Should the students remember the material? What was the purpose for teaching? Whoever thinks about after the class—what then?
When Mbiti (1986, 7) referred to the African proverb, “You cannot fill your granaries with borrowed grain”, he was warning the church about “living on borrowed or inherited Christianity”. The church in Africa is growing rapidly but if it is to become a strong church able to stand against the enemy, then it must develop an understanding of the Bible and Christianity within its own culture.
In order for knowledge acquired in the classroom to take root and bear fruit, it must be internalized. It must become part of the thinking process of the mind. Paul’s challenge to the church of Rome extends to us today and is very important to theological education. Paul challenged the church to be renewed in their minds and to not conform or copy the world. For too long the gospel has been assimilated into current worldviews and thought patterns. As one pastor lamented in his area, “everyone knows Christianity is for believing and not for living”. A believer who sees Christ and the gospel as a matter of the heart only and not sufficient for all areas of life will most likely depend on traditional beliefs in times of crisis or need. Believers need to have their minds renewed. For this to happen, students in Bible school must see their education as relevant to real-life so that when they preach and teach, they will be able to guide believers to also see the gospel as relevant to all areas of life.
An educational research committee reported that too often learning is “embedded in the context of a classroom and students may struggle when they attempt to translate the learning in job-related [or ministry related] activities.” Teachers need to become aware of the principle of learning called transfer. Transfer is the powerful ability to not only link learning in one area with learning in another area but to also link learning in and about one situation to other situations. Transferability is being able to take the general principles learned in the classroom and utilize them in real-life situations.
Notice, in the definition given above for transfer, there are two important facets to look at if new learning is to truly become an active ingredient of one’s life. The new learning must be connected to past learning and it must be connected to life. First, the teacher needs to constantly help students see how what is being studied in the present is related to what was studied in the past. Too often in our Bible Schools, courses are taught as fragmented stand alone units. Each teacher sees what they teach as individual units. The students then enter class, learn the material, pass the exam, and then walk out of class never to interact with the information again. In the learning process all learning is connected in some way, either consciously or unconsciously. Some connections are stronger than others. Past learning is used to determine how one associates the new learning making sense of it and then storing it.
The second facet necessary for transfer is that new learning must be connected to real life. Students need to know how the new learning will be useful in their lives. As with anything else in life, if one does not find the object to have any usefulness, it will be discarded. It will be difficult for transfer to occur if either connections to past learning or finding usefulness are ignored because the new learning will either be stored improperly or it will just fad away making it difficult or impossible to be available when needed in new situations.
This may sound confusing to you so perhaps an illustration will help. Let’s say you are teaching “Historical Books”. That seems like a straight forward course. The course is usually taught as historical facts, see the history of Israel, perhaps connect it to Christ, but basically leave it as history in the Old Testament. However, teaching for transferability requires to one to connect the new learning to past learning. Before writing out your lesson plans, look at what courses the students have already studied. Perhaps they have studied “Hermeneutics” and “Guidelines for Leadership” or “Spiritual Leadership”. Hermeneutics required the students to look at the context to understand what was written when it was written and then to make application to life today. As you work through the historical books, remind the students of the hermeneutical principles they learned and the necessity to continue using them.
In Romans 15:4 Paul reminded the church that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us”. As you work through the lives of the kings, ask the students to remember what they learned in their leadership class. Have them evaluate the kings according to what they learned. But, do not leave the learning in the past. Move it forward to the present. Ask the students to choose the king he or she would most like to have as a role model and the one they believe is the worse role model and explain why. In this way, both facets of transfer have taken place in the classroom. The new learning has been connected to the past by pulling in principles of hermeneutics and leadership. It has become useful because the kings and history of Israel is seen as models to imitate or models to avoid in life today.
Remember, our responsibility as teachers is not to simply dispense information or increase knowledge. Our responsibility is to allow the Holy Spirit to use us as instruments of transformation in the lives of the students. Transfer and transformational learning do not occur automatically. We as teachers must be intentional in giving the students opportunities to make connections and find usefulness and meaning in life.
The above article is written by:
Dr. Murriell McCulley, Chairperson for the Faculty Enrichment and Certification Commission (FECC); email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Murriell McCulley serves as an AGWM missionary to Africa with her husband Bob.