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Takeout Learning: 4 Tips to Encourage Learning Transfer


Wed Apr 29 2015

Takeout Learning: 4 Tips to Encourage Learning Transfer

“Great! Wonderful training! We talked a little bit, we laughed a little bit. So, what was the training about again?

We’ve all been there. You went to an awesome training workshop, perhaps one on interpersonal skills or reaching inaccessible adult learners. You even got the big picture. But what happens when you can’t carry that big picture into the real world? 


In the world of learning and development—where engagement and interactivity rule—we often place a great deal of significance on the “Big Picture.” Unfortunately, we sometimes without emphasizing the tangible skills learners will use in everyday life. 

Think of learning as a takeout box. You want learners to receive skills they can “take away” and apply on the job. These skills are also known as transferrable learning. Here are four tips to help you give learners a box of goodies, instead of a cardboard box filled with Styrofoam. 

#1: Know Your Learners 

Adult learners know what they need, but you need to know what they need as well. Take a minute to understand learners’ needs and past experiences. There are several straightforward approaches to determine the needs of your learners. Simply asking them what they want to take away from the training session is effective. This strategy is also a great icebreaker, and participants will appreciate having a say in what they learn. 

If you want a more quantitative measure of your learners’ needs, a short pre-assessment at the start of a workshop is ideal. In a pre-assessment, you could ask what participants already know about a certain topic, three things they wish to take away from the workshop, and why they have chosen to attend this particular workshop. Both strategies create a dialogue and level the playing field between you and the learners. You might even take away a couple of workforce ideas for yourself! 


#2: It’s OK to Customize Learning Objectives 

Although learning objectives often are mundane and feel somewhat forced, they can be more fluid than you might think. Modify your objectives based on what your learners have identified as their needs; after all, you’ve created this learning experience for them, right? It’s also helpful to introduce learning objectives through specific workplace scenarios, which facilitate learners’ acquisition of a particular skill and its application to the workplace. 

#3: Rewind 

Review and refer to your learning objectives periodically throughout your learning experience. Your objectives shouldn’t feel rehearsed or scripted. The big picture is important, but connecting the dots and emphasizing the everyday experiences that create the big picture is just as important! Make sure that there are plenty of opportunities to introduce scenarios where learners will be encouraged to apply new skills. An even better idea is to allow learners to create their own workplace scenarios where they would have to apply their newly acquired skills. 

#4: Box It Up 


Don’t leave your learners with only a conceptual understanding of an abstract learning or communication theory. Give your learners concrete skills they can actually use in a working environment. Demonstrate what these skills look like in practice, or show them what happens when you don’t use a particular skill. Satirical, self-made YouTube videos (or perhaps one found online) are ideal. 

To encourage more active learning, plan a jigsaw activity where learners develop scenarios, swap them with other participants, and have them navigate the scenarios using their newly introduced skills. Activities such as these will allow learners to see the various ways a new skill can be applied to various workplace situations. 

It’s also important to package your learning. Now that you’ve given your learners the “what” and “how” behind a particular workforce development skill, give them a “so what” that addresses the overall purpose of using that skill. Hone in on the skill’s importance and why it should be transferred to the workplace. The box (or your presentation) should look polished, but it doesn’t have to be overly glamourous. After all, your learners are not consuming the takeaway box; they’re consuming the knowledge within it. 

Once these four tips are embedded in your training programs, learners will no longer exit your workshops uttering those dreaded words: “Great training! Now why do I need to know this again?” 

ATD young professionals are encouraged to get involved and submit content to ATD blogs. Find out more information about sharing your content. Attending the ATD 2015 International Conference & Exposition? View a list of events and activities for young professionals.

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