The first and foremost theory that finds its way into this list is obviously none other than one of the most famous “theory of identical elements”. This game-changing theory was based on the idea of the occurrence of the training transfer, from one side to another, under the situations with most similar or identical elements and was developed by E.L Thorndike. According to him most of transfer occurs from one situation to another in which there are most similar or identical elements.

This theory explains that carrying over from one situation to another is roughly proportional to the degree of resemblance in situation, in other words- more the similarity, more the transfer.

The degree of transfer increases as the similarity of elements increase. For example, learning to ride moped is easy after learning to ride a bicycle. Here, transfer is very fast because of identical elements in both vehicles.

Thorndike was convinced that the method used in guiding a pupil’s learning activities had a great effect upon the degree of transferability of his learning.

According to this theory, carrying out the transfer of training from the trainer’s side to that of the trainee is proportional to the degree of resemblance in situations. In simpler words, you can say that the greater the similarity, the quicker and more effective, the transfer is. Furthermore, the degree of transfer, as well as the pace of the transfer, increases as the number of similar elements increase.

For example, for most of the learners, it’s extremely easy to learn to ride a bike, if they have some experience with a bicycle. In this case, the transfer occurs extremely fast because of the similarities in both vehicles.

 Moreover, it is also true that the methods, which are used to guide the pupil and his learning activities, greatly influence (or we might say, they control), the degree of transferability of the training and Thorndike was sure of it. It is a common observation that nearly all of the new learners are supposed to move forward by taking small steps instead of a whole big leap. This is done so that the learner grasps the maximum possible concepts and keeps the interest in the subject. There would be nothing if the opposite had been done.

Identical Elements Theory

Thorndike  later  formulated  the  theory  of  identical elements, in which he argued that earlier learning is only advantageous if the second task to be learned has elements that are identical to those of the first task. The amount of transfer thus depends on the similarity between the elements of two skills or  of  two  performance  contexts.  The  problem with  this  theory  was  that  it  did  not  specify  what the  elements  were  or  how  their  similarities  were to  be  assessed.  Two  possible  ways  to  specify  an element in the context of motor learning are that (1)  it  is  any  observable  movement  component  of a  skill,  such  as  the  swing  of  the  leg  in  a  kick;  or (2)  it  is  any  task-specific  coordination  dynamic, such as the synergy of the elbow, wrist, and fingers when throwing a Frisbee. Predictions on the basis of  common  elements  between  two  skills  suggest that the amount of transfer between a tennis serve and a golf putt is likely to be less than between a tennis serve and a volleyball serve because a tennis serve  has  more  elements  in  common  with  a  volleyball  serve  than  a  golf  putt.  Predictions  on  the basis  of  common  elements  between  two  contexts or domains suggest that learning to anticipate the direction  of  a  tennis  serve  by  reacting  in  real  life will yield more positive transfer to game play than learning to anticipate the direction of a tennis serve by reacting in a video game.


The primary target of Judd’s criticism was the early work of E. L. Thorndike on transfer of training. Judd held that Thorndike’s connectionism tended to reduce the higher mental processes to aggregations of simpler processes. For example, he asserted that Thorndike’s view led teachers of arithmetic to think of the subject as a collection of specific items to be learned through drill rather than to look on arithmetic as a highly abstract and systematic form of learning. Judd rejected not the concept of transfer, but Thorndike’s mechanism of transfer: he believed in the possibility of transfer through the learning of widely applicable generalizations rather than through the connection of different situations by identical elements. His position on transfer was an outgrowth of his fundamental view of the higher mental processes. He emphasized learning as an organization of experience, with the possibility of transfer increasing as the higher levels of generalization are reached.

Although Judd was a psychologist by training, his long career as head of the department of education at Chicago brought him in direct contact with all the major issues of educational administration. He exerted an important influence on school organization over a period of three decades. In addition, as editor of two major periodicals in the field of education, the School Review and the Elementary School Journal, Judd was able to give his views on education wide currency.