In studying the various ways a person learns, a critical concept to consider is transfer learning. When a person has existing knowledge about a topic or task, they can apply that knowledge to a new situation or task; sometimes the similarities between these different sets of information allow for the successful understanding of the new material, and other times the difference between the information is what adds to one's knowledge set.
Transfer learning can be positive or negative, and there are three key ways to consider this. First, one must state whether or not the initial grasp of the new information could be obtained using existing knowledge, or if could be just as easily understood by someone without that existing knowledge. Second, one must consider the amount of time it takes to learn the new task or topic, comparing the results among individuals with existing knowledge and those without. Finally, it should be determined whether a person with existing knowledge would achieve greater levels of completion than someone without existing knowledge. Ultimately, if rates of completion were lower or time of completion was longer among individuals with existing knowledge, it is said that negative transfer learning has occurred; having the knowledge seemed more of a detriment than not. However, if the individual with the existing knowledge was more successful, either in rates of completion or time it took to complete, then positive transfer learning has taken place.