Generalization Is the Ability to Use Skills Across Environments

Young children gathered around a potted plant.

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Generalization is the ability to use skills that a student has learned in new and different environments. Whether those skills are functional or academic, once a skill is learned, it needs to be used in multiple settings. For typical children in a general education program, skills that they have learned in school are usually quickly used in new settings.

Children with disabilities, however, often have difficulty transferring their skills to a different setting from the one in which it was learned. If they are taught how to count money using pictures, they may be unable to "generalize" the skill to real money. Even though a child may learn to decode letter sounds, they may have difficulty transferring that skill to actual reading if they are not expected to blend them into words.

This is also known as community-based instruction or learning transfer.

Examples: Julianne knew how to add and subtract but she had difficulty generalizing those skills to shopping for treats at the corner store.

Applications and Learning Exercises

Clearly, special educators need to be sure that they design instruction in ways that facilitate generalization. They may choose to:

  • Teach in different settings in the school.
  • Use real coins to teach money.
  • Take students into the community and give them tasks that require them to use their skills. How about a scavenger hunt at a grocery store? There, you can have students find prices for products on the hunt list.
  • Play store. It gives your students opportunities to read, to add and subtract with a calculator, to make change, and to count mixed coins.
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Your Citation
Webster, Jerry. "Generalization Is the Ability to Use Skills Across Environments." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Webster, Jerry. (2021, July 31). Generalization Is the Ability to Use Skills Across Environments. Retrieved from Webster, Jerry. "Generalization Is the Ability to Use Skills Across Environments." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).