Identifying obstacles to transfer of critical thinking skills

Lara M. van Peppen*, Tamara van Gog, Peter P.J.L. Verkoeijen, Patricia A. Alexander

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
38 Downloads (Pure)


This study investigated whether unsuccessful transfer of critical thinking (CT) would be due to recognition, recall, or application problems (cf. three-step model of transfer). In two experiments (laboratory: N = 196; classroom: N = 104), students received a CT-skills pretest (including learning, near transfer, and far transfer items), CT-instructions, practice problems, and a CT-skills posttest. On the posttest transfer items, students either (1) received no support, (2) received recognition support, (3) were prompted to recall acquired knowledge, or (4) received recall support. Results showed that CT could be fostered through instruction and practice: we found learning, near transfer, and (albeit small) far transfer performance gains and reduced test-taking time. There were no significant differences between the four support conditions, however, suggesting that the difficulty of transfer of CT-skills lies in problems with application/mapping acquired knowledge onto new tasks. Additionally, exploratory results on free recall data suggested suboptimal recall can be a problem as well.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-288
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Cognitive Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research [grant number: NWO project number 409-15-203]; Stichting Jo Kolk Studiefonds. The authors would like to thank Ilse Hartel–Slager and Marjolein Looijen for their help with running this study, Anita Heijltjes and Eva Janssen for their input on the materials, and the members of the Disciplined Reading & Learning Research Laboratory of the University of Maryland for their input on the discussion.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


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