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Four ways to ensure learning transfer

The Management Centre

In this blog, =mc’s Director Charlotte Scott shares four ways of ensuring that the learning you’ve invested in is passed on and applied throughout your organisation. If you’ve spent time and money on training and development (or are thinking about doing so), this blog is a must-read!


Four Ways to Ensure Learning Transfer

Ensuring learning transfer is one of the greatest challenges facing L&D professionals today. Despite the millions spent on training and staff development in various forms the challenge remains – how to ensure that learning is actually applied in the real life work setting?

=mc invited leading L&D experts in the not-for-profit sector as part of our thought leadership programme, to help identify the key elements that enable training to result in real behaviour change. We also needed them to think about what they have seen work in different settings. And come up with some simple principles.

Using an appreciative inquiry approach, we focussed on real successes: where training produced demonstrable improvements in performance and positive results for both the individual and their organisation.

Through discussion it became clear that real behaviour change is less predictable than we may think, and depends on the individuals, the content or the context. This means to make learning transfer work we have to be flexible and responsive. There is no one size fits all answer.

However the same messages surfaced repeatedly across the group: a number of core elements that truly promote performance improvement. Together we came up with the following four secrets of success:

WIFM: we invest time and energy in our own development only when we know “What’s In It For Me”. Training has to attract people through the tangible benefits for the learners: whether that’s a connection to career opportunities, or as simple as saving them time. And previous participants can be excellent advocates, so reputation and word of mouth is key! Organisations need to recognise they can only gain benefits if they offer mutual benefits to the learners.

Just in Time: training can seem irrelevant if it seems like a sheep dip approach or is way too abstract. High impact training needs to happen just in time for the learners when they need it and so they can apply the learning immediately. To succeed we need to ensure there are opportunities to use the learning, and offer the right content at the right time in people’s development paths and careers.

Permission: learning transfer means changing our behaviour, our habits and our usual ways of thinking – which is never easy. Learners don’t just need opportunities to apply the learning, they also need permission to do so. Ideally this could be the whole organisation agreeing to new ways of working with buy in from the senior team down. More typically permission can come from the learners’ managers keeping up momentum, or even from peer to peer encouragement. At the very least, people need to feel they really “can do it”- so they need to hear honest feedback about their abilities from experts and peers.

Sticky ideas: people change their behaviour where ideas resonate with them and “stick”. We know this has happened when we overhear key phrases being repeated between peers: “Is this urgent AND important”?, “Are we in quadrant 4 here?”, “Think-Feel-Do”, “Let’s get out of black hat” etc. By articulating these ideas, people become more self aware of themselves and their behaviours and so consciously make new choices. We need to ensure key messages are simple, memorable and reinforced.

Ensuring learning transfer is something we will always need to be concerned about, but by following these four principles we can really help people make a greater impact in their role.

with thanks to:

Ed Shrager, Alzheimer’s Society

Christopher Clark and Louise Cooper, British Red Cross

Sarah Kivlin, Cambridge Assessment

Marie Dowsett, Gateway Housing

Nick Greenwood, International Institute for Environment and Development

Amanda Potts, MS Society

Claire Hall, NSPCC

Chris Williams, Overseas Development Institute

Libby Alexander, Royal Shakespeare Company

What’s next?

If you’re interested in training and staff development visit our Learning & Development page or get in touch with one of our experienced Learning & Development consultants on 020 7978 1516.

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Charlotte Scott

About Charlie Scott

Charlie specialises in leadership development, team facilitation and strategy development. Charlie worked for over 20 years in the not-for-profit sector. Before joining =mc ten years ago, she created and...