Three Ways to Achieve Learning Transfer



As learning designers, L&D gurus and HR Managers we all have an intention to create great learning. We want our learners to experience something valuable, learn something new and leave with the skills that they need (after all, it’s our job to do that, right?).

So, how do we know that we are delivering impactful learning? Well, what do the feedback forms say? If your learners tell you that they:

  • “Enjoyed the experience”
  • “The training was valuable”; and 
  • “Great facilitator”
...potentially you are cheering (and maybe even treating yourself to an extra biscuit at afternoon tea). We agree! Well done! You created a great experience for the learners (still very important). The question we have (and have been asking ourselves) is:

“Have the learners been transferring their new skills to their day-to-day life?”


Isn’t the reason behind a training course to adjust behaviour and have learners act or think differently? Learners can act and think differently whilst completing the training, however, what about afterwards when they go back to their office and reality sets in?

  • When someone passes their learner driver's license online exam, does it mean that they will be able to successfully and safely drive a car? 
  • If someone completes a public speaking training course with a group does it mean that they are ready to present in front of thousands of people at a conference?
  • Does the training that a pilot receives enable them to safely fly you from one country to another (you would hope so - sorry to the nervous flyers out there!)?
“Transfer of learning is ensuring what people learn on training programs is transferred into real business results” (Transfer of Learning, 2017). When done well, transfer of learning ensures that participants are using what they learnt in the training in their day-to-day job.

Take some time now to reflect on whether the learners that you offer learning to are actually adjusting their behaviour and transferring their new-found skills to their day-to-day environment. 

  • Are your learners demonstrating learning transfer?
  • Could you make improvements to the process? 
  • Are you measuring whether learning transfer is taking place?
We will leave these questions for you to answer.

What we would like to offer through this blog is to show you how you can improve learning transfer for your learning solutions/organisation. Our team has a great interest in this topic and from the meetups we’ve attended, the industry friends we’ve listened to, the blogs and articles we’ve read, our personal experiences in the industry and watching numerous videos on the topic, we believe we have value to share.

Here it is:

1. Ensure the Learning Aligns with the Learner Environment

We want you to imagine that you attend an inspiring training course where you learn the skills to not over promise outputs to your customers but to politely provide a realistic date for when you can resolve their request.

You are feeling like superman/woman and leave the training ready to try out your new-found skills. You get back to your desk, a customer calls and you politely advise of a date when you can help them (learning transfer on point!). After your call, your supervisor approaches you and tells you to always solve a customer request in the moment.

Whether the supervisor was right or wrong, the learner’s environment is not aligned with the learning experience that they just had. So, guess what? Even though they enjoyed the training and felt great when they left (and most likely left a big smiley face on the feedback form), it is now useless to them as their environment doesn’t support it. 

Alternatively, the supervisor may not engage with the learner at all about the training. They may be too busy, forget, not know to or decide that it is not their role to follow up or ask any questions. This lack of interest or buy-in from the supervisor can signify to the learner that the training was not important (and therefore why should they change their behaviour?) (Falck & Rip, 2018).

Practical tip: When you are designing training, ensure that the learning objectives align with the learner environment. Consider:

  • Does their supervisor agree with and support what they are learning? 
  • Does the culture support them in using their new skills? 
  • How can you achieve or influence dot point 1 and 2 through your solution?
2. Prime the Learner

At a recent meetup on learning transfer our team was reminded that training effectiveness is highly dependant on what happens before the training event. With our interest in psychology, this made total sense (and also got us a bit excited!). This is also known as ‘priming’ the learner for… well, learning.

In particular, studies have shown that a learner’s attitude before a training experience determines their motivation to transfer their learning to their day-to-day job (Malamed, n.d.). 

Imagine that you are all of a sudden forced to complete a training course with no understanding of why. Not too motivating is it (unless you like a bit of mystery)? We think, save the mystery for Cluedo. We want answers!

Practical tip: Next time you are designing a learning solution (it may be right now!), think about how you can best prime your learners and gain buy-in prior to them completing the learning. Here are some suggestions:

  • Explain to the learner why the training is important. Why was the training created in the first place and why are they doing it? This should come from their direct supervisor and you will need to support them to be able to have this conversation.
  • Enable the learners to have a say and provide feedback during the instructional design phase. Potentially they know something that you don’t and can help you design a learning experience that is relevant to them. 
  • Communicate learning transfer opportunities. Now is your opportunity to gain commitment for learning transfer from the learner and supervisor. Create a one-pager that shares tips on how learning can be transferred (think 70:20:10 model) and encourage the learner and their direct supervisor to identify opportunities for learning transfer such as stretch projects or shadowing.
3. Encourage Reflection

From our research, reflection was a concept that kept popping up. Emma Weber, a Learning Transfer and Evaluation Specialist focuses her work on learning transfer in organisations and shares valuable information in relation to the importance of reflection. Emma advises that training solutions are, “Not about content. It’s about accountability, reflection and outcome.” (Cook, 2017).

Research has found reflection to be a powerful element of learning (Nobel, 2014). Partaking in reflection after a learning event can significantly improve learning in three ways:

  • “Increases your rate of learning through higher confidence in the ability to achieve a goal.”
  • “Become more productive.”
  • “Increases motivation, which in turn leads to greater performance.”

Practical tip: Encourage learners to reflect on their learning experience. This can be done by: 

  • Incorporating reflection time within the learning experience.
  • Providing the learner with a reflection resource that they can complete during and after the learning experience.
  • Encouraging a meeting between the learner and their supervisor to enable the learner to discuss their reflections.
  • Encouraging peer-to-peer reflection time such as having them present at the next team meeting.
Emma Weber (n.d.) advises that the most effective type of reflection to support learning transfer is when it is, “Specific, structured and accountable”, so keep that in mind when you decide how you will incorporate reflection.

Those were our top tips for achieving learning transfer! We hope that you can gain value from them and apply them to your learning solutions. A special thank you to Geoff Rip for inspiring us to explore learning transfer in further detail and in turn share this blog with our community (if you are interested in this topic we suggest checking him out!).

If you would like to discuss this topic in more detail please don’t hesitate to contact our passionate founder, Kim Tuohy, via kim@belvistastudios.com or through LinkedIn.

                                                                      References

Cook, J. (2017). How to Create Effective Learning Transfer? Retrieved from https://www.trainingjournal.com/articles/feature/how-create-effective-learning-transfer

Falck, D. & Rip, G. (2018). 6 Reasons Leadership Development Programs Fail (p. 6). Spring Hill: Babblewire. Retrieved from https://www.babblewire.com.au/six-reasons-why-leadership-development-programs-fail/

Malamed, C. (n.d.). How Your Workplace Can Support Learning Transfer. Retrieved from http://theelearningcoach.com/business/workplace-support-of-learning-transfer/

Nobel, C. (2014). Reflecting on Work Improves Job Performance. Retreived from https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/reflecting-on-work-improves-job-performance

Transfer of Learning. (2017). What is Transfer of Learning. Retrieved from https://transferoflearning.com/

Weber, E. (n.d.). 6 Reflection Tools to Boost Your Learning. Retrieved from https://transferoflearning.com/6-reflection-tools-to-boost-your-learning/.

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