Best Practices in HR

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Emma Weber
  August 15, 2016

8 Failing Transfer of Learning Solutions

Most people in the learning and development industry are fully aware of training’s dismal record in affecting behavioural change. There is growing recognition that the missing link is transfer of learning.

There are eight popular “solutions” that are frequently used to facilitate learning transfer… that DON’T WORK.

1. ‘Our managers conduct training follow-up’

This approach is certainly one of the most popular. However, expecting managers to be able to create accountability is unrealistic in most organisations – particularly without proper training in a proven transfer of learning methodology. They simply don’t have the tools, time or training to make it a reality. Perhaps it is about time that we cut managers some slack and become open to the possibility that they may not be the best person to facilitate learning transfer – at least not unless they have been thoroughly trained to do so, or have aligned KPIs that make it an imperative.

2. ‘We facilitate training follow-up discussion groups.’

Another popular solution. In practice, however, discussion groups rarely facilitate or improve transfer of learning. They may allow people to exchange views and discuss the material but they can too easily be viewed as a convenient ‘break from work’ rather than a constructive place to solve ongoing implementation issues and resolve challenges. Plus there is rarely any accountability in a group session. Group think prevails with a “we should do this” mentality, rather than holding individuals accountable for action.

Interestingly, group follow up is classed as a second cousin to the learning, yet arguably it is more important than the learning itself. Unfortunately many group follow ups only have a 20-30% show up rate.

3. ‘We run half-day training refresher/follow-up sessions.’

Unfortunately these refresher sessions are usually just an opportunity to review the content again with no real provision for accountability. All the participants need to do is look back over their notes so that they can regurgitate a few salient points. If they can do this, then the assumption is that they must be using the training. Chances are they are not. Remembering the content of the training or being able to give a single example of when it was used does not automatically ensure that what is remembered has become a positive habit.

4. ‘We have executive coaching.’

Unfortunately, this is almost always offered as face-to-face coaching, which means that it is often extremely expensive and impossible to roll out across a large organisation. The other major problem with executive coaching is that often it is conducted by the trainer who did the initial training – who is probably fairly wedded to their content and will simply spend the coaching time redelivering that content rather than getting ideas from the participant about how they intend to action those ideas and create behaviour change. I firmly believe that after the content has been delivered, when it comes to behavioural change the further away we can get from the content the better.

5. ‘We use action learning.’

Action learning involves small groups of people from diverse parts of an organisation being brought together to solve a problem, usually on a project-by-project basis. The theory is that once the individual starts to use the new behaviour in the project they will automatically transfer that insight or learning into their daily activity but that doesn’t necessarily happen. Once the project is finished then those new behaviours are also finished and the individual soon reverts back to the old way of working. The participants are not being deliberately difficult – it’s just that the process of splitting their everyday work from their action learning project separated the two things and individuals will not automatically transfer the learning to their everyday work after the action learning project is complete.

6. ‘We use blended learning solutions.’

Blended learning is the term used to describe the mix of content delivery channels, which range from face-to-face instruction to interactive computer-based programs and the use of the emerging electronic media. Blended learning may improve how the content is delivered and it may allow the participant to tap into their preferred learning style but it makes absolutely zero difference to whether or not that information is used to alter behaviour and improve performance. Remember, when considering learning transfer we need to be thinking about context, how the individual is applying what they’ve learnt in their own context, rather than sending out additional learning content.

7. ‘We create a social media community.’

Using social media forums can be great for creating peer to peer shared learning. In a proactive and evolved workplace with a mature learning culture, social learning can support effective learning transfer. Be wary, like discussion groups it can turn into a handy work distraction where participants can endlessly discuss the problem without seeking resolution or improvement, or holding individuals accountable to change. Without wanting to stereotype, these sorts of initiatives may appeal to the younger demographic but are unlikely to engage older employees. As a tool this type of online community can be a great addition to the learning strategy.

8. ‘We ensure everyone is properly prepared for the learning.’

There is little doubt that encouragement towards the right attitude for the training can help the process, as can knowing what outcomes the business expects from the individual. Learner readiness is certainly a hot topic right now. But what happens after the training has a more significant impact on learning transfer than what happens before.

These eight examples above are all tactics employed by businesses in an attempt to improve training effectiveness and implement a learning transfer strategy. This is testament to the fact that people recognise the problem and are focused on genuinely finding a solution.