Generalization - a Term for the Ability to Use Skills Across Environments

toy cash register
Real money promotes generalization of money counting skills. (Websterlearning)

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, if they are not expected to blend them into words, they may have difficulty transferring that skill to actual reading.

Also Known As: community-based instruction, 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.


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 that they use their skills. How about a scavenger hunt at a grocery store? (Great fun. Have students find prices.)
  • Play store. It gives your students opportunities to read, to add and subtract with a calculator, and to make change and count mixed coins.