Dynamic Transfer is a complicated subject, and one that I feel requires a lot more background than I ideally want to dedicate myself to giving in one blog post. As a simple explanation, “Dynamic Transfer occurs over time as a learner coordinates prior knowledge along with other resources available in the environment to produce new understandings (p. 182)”.

I recognize that there is a lot to unpack there. When I use the term transfer, I’m talking about the ability that a person has to take prior knowledge from one context and apply that knowledge to a new context.

As a sufficiently geeky example, a gamer who has perhaps been persuaded into playing on console, despite their preference for playing on the PC, might ask another player over the in game communication system what button throws a grenade. The PC player knows that it is possible to throw a grenade and draws on that prior knowledge to use one of their resources, another player, to determine how to accomplish that goal in the new context.

That’s close to dynamic transfer. It occurs during the moments of floundering as the gamer adjusts to the new method for interacting with the game. Any gamer who has switched from playing video games using a mouse and keyboard to playing them on console knows the experience of dealing with a period of adjustment.

It’s an adjustment to moving the camera the right way. Personally for me, I struggled with the joysticks seeming much too sensitive compared to looking around with a mouse and keyboard in the 3D space. Aiming with a mouse and keyboard is a much different experience than aiming with a controller in a first person shooter, and it took me quite awhile to adjust to being able to aim as well as I could with a mouse and keyboard on a controller. There’s also something else that happens during that adjustment. My skill level when playing the same game dropped considerably. I was struggling to get anywhere near the performance I had with using different controls. It’s during that period of adjustment where dynamic transfer is happening. I have this prior knowledge and experience playing the game well, but I have to figure out what that means on a controller.

I had to draw on a few resources in order to actually get good at playing the game on a controller. One is learning the keys from another player, or the in game tutorial system. Another resource is the in game menu that has options for adjusting the joystick sensitivity. Another one is watching others play the game to see what they do, and how their hands move when they are interacting with the game. After some struggling with the new system, eventually, and that’s key, I was able to perform on a console controller nearly the same way that I could on a PC, but it would not have been possible without struggling. Getting through that period of adjustment is where dynamic transfer happens, and usually learning a new context requires gritting your teeth through a difficult experience.

The kind of dynamic transfer and creation of new knowledge I’m primarily interested in in terms of this blog post involves writing. Dynamic transfer occurs in much the same way. A writer goes from one writing context, let’s say the first year composition classroom, to a new writing setting. They have prior knowledge about writing, but their writing with different goals, styles, audiences, tones, and more in this new context and there’s a period of struggle in which they can attempt to synthesize their prior knowledge with the resources in the new writing context in order to reach an understanding of how to write in this new context.

The questions are: What do resources for dynamic transfer look like in a writing context, and What transfers from a previous learning context to be coordinated with those resources?

For example, let’s take a writer who is going from a First Year Composition context to a biology class room. Abstractly, a writer might understand that they need an introduction, a thesis statement, and conclusion,  but they might not know specifically what a introduction, thesis statement, or conclusion should look like in the biology department.

The prior knowledge that transfers over is the need for a introduction, the need for a thesis, and the need for a conclusion. These ideas are abstract. A writer might not even think of them in those terms, but they know they need to start the paper a certain way, and the paper needs an end point. The question becomes, what does the writer draw on to understand what those aspects of a paper should look like in the new context?

The resources might be very simple. Perhaps the psychology professor passes out an example paper that the student could try and imitate in order to write the paper in the correct way. The professor might lecture about what the goals of a piece of writing and that might help the students to understand it as well. The only thing is that those two examples might not be very common. In fact, the resources in a new writing context might be even more subtle than that. Students might have to try and understand how their writing is supposed to sound based on extrapolating on readings that have been assigned in class. The point is that there are resources in these new setting and if we can figure out what those resources are, and how they might help a student to understand a new writing context, we might be able to teach students to identity them even if they are very subtle.


Hayes, Hogan. Ferris R, Dana. Whithaus, Carl. “Dynamic Transfer in First Year Writing and “Writing in the Disciplines” Settings”. Critical Transitions: Writing and the Question of Transfer.  Ed by Anson, Chris M. Moore L. Jessie. The Wac Clearing House and University Press of Colorado. P. 181-213.



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