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Practical Learning Transfer Techniques to Bridge Learning to Performance

Wednesday, March 20, 2019
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While the exact number varies by study, research consistently shows that less than 30 percent of learning is applied on the job. Put differently, 70 percent of learning is likely waste or learning scrap. Many a TD practitioner’s reaction to such data is to design and deliver better training. Unfortunately, that doesn’t solve the problem, because the challenge is to change the training design focus from input of new knowledge to application, or learning transfer.

Technique 1: Understand the Minds of Users Applying Learning on the Job

As trainers and instructional designers, we always carefully design training so that participants aren’t under-stimulated or overwhelmed, bored or too challenged, tired through repetition, or confused by variation. However, before shifting our focus to learning transfer, we didn’t fully understand how our participants felt, thought, and behaved when applying learning on the job.

Over time we realized that the most important thing to improve transfer is to understand what learners do on the job and what’s going on in their minds. They might think to themselves, “Should I try those skills? No, too busy, maybe next time.” Or, “What did I learn in training? Hmm, I don’t remember. Oh well, I’ll do it the regular way.” Or even, “I’d really like to try those techniques from training. But, you know, I’m just not ready yet.” Watching learners in action, talking to them when they’re working, and putting yourself in their shoes are all effective ways to get learning transfer started.

Technique 2: Identify Common Transfer Problems

Once you’ve started understanding the problems learners have applying training on the job, you’ll quickly realize that the reason learning doesn’t get transferred into behavior and results is almost never that the learners are lazy or unintelligent. Looking closely, you’ll also see some important patterns. For example:

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  • When there’s a lot to remember, learners tend to forget.
  • When they need a lot of practice to master skills, learners won’t improve unless they have opportunities to practice those skills.
  • When learners must change their mindset, they’ll often have doubts and second thoughts about whether they can actually do what they learned.

Through our decades of experience, we’ve confirmed that different types of training content have predictable learning transfer obstacles. Once you’ve identified the problems you’re likely to face, you can start planning to address them.

Technique 3: Match Solutions to Transfer Problems

After you’ve identified the learning transfer problems learners face on the job, it’s surprisingly straightforward to design tactics to avoid them. For example:

  • If learners forget content, send them a series of spaced reminders.
  • If learners don’t have frequent opportunities to use the new skills, involve managers to create chances for them to practice.
  • If learners need practice to attain a higher level of ability, follow up with exercises they can use to build their skills.

Fortunately, choosing the right learning transfer solution becomes fairly obvious if you understand the application problem.

As talent development professionals, we must help learners not just develop skills, but also transfer those skills into behavior on the job and get results. In most cases, the learning program is successful, but the transfer effort needs improvement. These three practical transfer techniques will get you started, and hopefully lead to better results for you and your organization.

If you want to improve performance that transfers into great results and ROI but still find yourself forced to do standard training, join us at the ATD 2019 International Conference & Exposition for the session, Goodbye Learning Events. Hello High-Performance Learning Journeys. We will combine discussion, video, activities, cases, and action planning to help you understand exactly how you can design and deliver more effective learning journeys involving microlearning, virtual learning, and learning transfer.

About the Author

Ian Townley, CPLP, is an independent learning and performance consultant based in London, United Kingdom. Over the last 17 years, Ian has designed, developed,and delivered learning to cross-cultural audiences for clients in three continents. He specializes in management development and 21st century soft skills learning design. Ian has had the pleasure of working with some of the most recognized names in industry, including Google, Pfizer, and Bayer. He is passionate advocate for the learner and has spent a large chunk of his career trying to solve the puzzle of how to effectively implement learning transfer to benefit the learner and the business.

About the Author

Jason Durkee, CPLP, is president of workplace learning and performance consulting firm Idea Development based in Tokyo and a director of ATD Japan. Since the 1990s, he's designed and delivered cross-cultural awareness, innovation and communication development programs to more than 40,000 participants in Asia. Idea Development is recognized as leader in learning transfer, dynamic training design, and effective use of technology in Japan. Jason regularly speaks at T&D related events in Asia and has published several books on business communication.

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