Delayed transfer of learning

While researching this weeks’ discussion topic in my Masters program, I came across a recent LA Times article that made me think about, for lack of a better phrase, the intentional delay of transfer of learning. Roan (2011) summarizes,

For more than a decade, California and other states have kept their newest teen drivers on a tight leash, restricting the hours when they can get behind the wheel and whom they can bring along as passengers. Public officials were confident that their get-tough policies were saving lives.

Now, though, a nationwide analysis of crash data suggests that the restrictions may have backfired: While the number of fatal crashes among 16- and 17-year-old drivers has fallen, deadly accidents among 18-to-19-year-olds have risen by an almost equal amount. In effect, experts say, the programs that dole out driving privileges in stages, however well-intentioned, have merely shifted the ranks of inexperienced drivers from younger to older teens. (para. 1-2)

What this study shows is that risk was shifted, not reduced. As Roan (2011) notes, “One possibility is that teens in these states may be waiting until they turn 18 to apply for a license because that allows them to bypass the restrictions” (para. 14). What wasn’t learned at a younger age still wasn’t magically learned by delaying more liberal driving privileges.

Contradictory results were found by research published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Knowing a bit about how insurance companies work, I’m skeptical of the contradictory findings, particularly in light of the solution proposed by Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (Roan, 2011):

McCartt said the solution may be to expand graduated driver licensing programs to include 18- and 19-year-olds who are getting behind the wheel for the first time. The idea isn’t without precedent: In New Jersey, such rules apply to all initial driver’s license applicants under the age of 21. (para. 20)

Tighter controls. Still another researcher, from perhaps a more objective position, is on the right track (Roan, 2011):

To get at the truth, researchers may need to dig into the data on individual state programs instead of grouping all states together, said Susan P. Baker, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who has studied the graduated programs but was not involved in either study. That would allow for a cleaner assessment of a program’s value, she said. (para. 19)

The data suggest a different tack from more rules and tighter controls. Following this line of inquiry, a number of possible solutions may suggest themselves based on a better set of questions. What kinds of experiences are young teens lacking with respect to driving that might reduce driving fatalities without the need to raise the driving age? How can those experiences be incrementally created and sequenced to optimize learning transfer? Can these experiences begin in the early grades such that the student is more than adequately prepared for driving when the time comes to learn that skill?

As a purely speculative example, suppose a common cause of accidents in young drivers is less than adequate skill with depth or speed perception. Can experiences be introduced and developed during a student’s early educational experience that develops this skill? What is a student’s understanding of consequences when engaged in activities which carry a risk for bodily harm? Looking a the array of available playground equipment these days, it looks to be near impossible to get hurt while playing on such modular units. Do children on today’s playgrounds learn the consequences of playing rough? They might be getting the abstract lesson from a scolding teacher, but there is something much more immediate and clear about falling down and skinning one’s knee that tends to leaving a lasting impression. This view is supported by research, referenced by Tierney (2011), who notes,

Even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries — and the evidence for that is debatable — the critics say that these playgrounds may stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone. (para 3)

By protecting (isolating, might be a better word) children from such *relatively* harmless, yet impressionable lessons from childhood, we do not prepare them for young adult life when the consequences are far more catastrophic and permanent. The lessons learned by falling from a foam slide onto a foam floor are not the lessons to take to situations involving 2,000 pounds of metal and glass going 65 miles per hour.


Roan, S. (2011, September 13). Teen driver restrictions a mixed bag. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from,0,7056006.story

Tierney, J. (2011, July 18). Can a playground be too safe? The New York Times. Retrieved from