Learning transfer is the process of putting learning to work in a way that improves performance. When a business invests in training, it expects performance to improve. Learning without transfer amounts to wasted time, effort, and money.
Producing business value from training involves both great learning and great learning transfer. If leaders do not see a measurable increase in performance posttraining, they won’t invest in more.
THE MANY INFLUENCES ON LEARNING TRANSFER
A typical training event goes through three phases: pretraining, training, and post-training. The key moment of training occurs after the fact, when an employee is faced with a task and the choice to perform the task in a new way.
Many factors influence learning transfer. Research on this topic began more than a century ago and has identified 100-plus separate factors that are known to influence transfer. More recently, researchers in the area have sought to identify the most influential factors according to themes relating to:
- The learner
- The learning intervention and materials
- The environmental factors that influence transfer
You can make the chances of learning transfer skyrocket by focusing on each of these three key elements.
1. LEARNING ACTION PLANS
Learning action plans are generated by learners to implement their learning post-training. In order to identify elements of the training they want to implement, learners are forced to reflect on their entire learning experience. This process of reflection and analysis embeds the training message more deeply in the learner’s long-term memory. Action plans also promote accountability for follow-through as learners feel a sense of responsibility for their actions when they have been committed to paper.
How to implement: Toward the end of training, ask learners to reflect on what they have learned and identify which elements they want to apply in their day-to-day work. Then ask them to commit this to paper, along with a timeframe for completion, and any additional resources or support they might require from peers and their manager in order to follow through on their plan. You can present the questions on screen, include them in a handout or an interactive element of an e-learning, or put them in a learner survey link.
Microlearning is based on the principle that we learn more effectively when content is presented to us in smaller, more digestible chunks, with time for reflection before the next “bite” of learning. Microlearning boosts learning by repeating key messages again and again over time.
How to implement: Your training programs likely already contain a lot of content. Review one piece of content, such as a training deck, and segment it into smaller topics. For example, the learning/performance objectives in the training deck can easily be lifted out and sent to learners via e-mail prior to a learning event. Doing this influences learners to attend more closely to similar content. Similarly, provide an agenda of topics that will be covered in the training and a list of questions to generate learners’ thoughts prior to participating in the rest of the training. Also, consider converting content into a different modality so it can be summarized and sent to learners after the usual learning event to serve as reminders or additional reading.
3. MANAGER LEARNING GUIDES
The work environment learners return to has a huge influence on pre-training desire to learn, post-training motivation for transfer, and actual learning transfer follow-through. A learner’s manager is the most influential element in the work environment. By sending useful how-to Manager Learning Guides to time-crunched managers to best support their direct reports through training, you can involve managers in the learning transfer process and see a higher rate of transfer for your training.
How to implement: Prior to the training, send a Manager Learning Guide (MLG) to a learner’s manager, making them aware that their employee is attending an upcoming training. Include some light details such as the objective of the training, key topics covered, and anticipated post-training behaviors. MLGs can take any form that suits your organization best, including e-mail, shared documents, and instant messaging.
Use the MLG to prompt the manager to have a discussion with the learner about the upcoming training and provide a suggested script such as:
“I am excited to hear you are learning about X, as I think that could be advantageous for our team for reasons A, B, and C. I hope you take a lot from the training. When it’s complete, let’s meet and discuss what you learned.”
Post-training, send another MLG to the manager, letting them know the training program has concluded and it’s time for learning to be applied in the workplace. Prompt the manager to have a post-learning discussion, asking their employee questions such as:
- What was the most exciting part of the training?
- How do you feel the learning will benefit you and the team?
- In what situations/projects will you apply your new knowledge/skills?
- What do you require from me as your manager to help you achieve this?
- What is a good timeframe to discuss this again and check your progress?
Fergal Connolly is a learning transfer expert who shares his evidence-based learning transfer approaches with the learning community. Connolly holds an MSc in Education and Training, and a BSc in Psychology. Contact him for speaking engagements, writing opportunities, or learning transfer consultancy at: www.fergalconnolly.com.