For decades professionals involved in training, from the designers to the facilitators to the participants to the managers and leaders, have been disappointed with the outcomes of training and the lack of any real-world measurable impact. There are countless studies* highlighting that only 10-20% of learning is transferred back to the workplace. It’s great that 10-20% is implemented, but when it is considered normal and acceptable that the other 80% of learning will not transfer back to the business, then surely something is seriously wrong with the process.
Over the last 20-30 years people in the industry have sought to rectify that problem with limited or, at best, mixed results. We have become extremely proficient in identifying training needs and designing courses and training events that will bridge the knowledge shortfall and upload the information necessary for change. We have become extremely proficient in delivering those training programs and getting great feedback – and yet three weeks after the program the workbooks and training folders are filed away or dumped at the bottom of a drawer and the participants are back at work doing exactly what they were doing before they left to attend the course. Even the acknowledgement within the industry that learning is not an “event” has failed to create business outcomes and merely elongated content delivery.
And so for years we have been faced with the mounting, almost overwhelming evidence that training for the vast majority of people doesn’t work. Training is by and large commissioned to solve a problem in a business, whether that is a sales problem, operations problem, skills problem, productivity problem or time management problem. Training is supposed to be the solution because the assumption is that there is a skill or knowledge shortfall. So training is commissioned and that shortfall is rectified. And yet the problem remains largely unchanged. Why? Because knowing and doing are very different things.
I know I should go to the gym every week and eat more vegetables, but that does not mean I will! Just because you learn a new sales technique and really appreciate how useful and valuable it may be doesn’t mean you will use it when you get back to work. Training doesn’t work because all the focus is on the wrong finish line. With so many stakeholders involved in the process, each one shunts the responsibility for success on to the next person in the chain until it falls in a heap – usually at the feet of the participant or that person’s manager. And yet this isn’t fair. The finish line is not the end of the training – no matter how brilliant that training is designed and delivered. The real finish line is when the knowledge or skill taught in the training can be witnessed in action in the workplace on a day to day basis.
So, how can you start to create real change with learning transfer?
The cry is “I don’t have the resources! How can I – in learning & development – influence the business to use what they learn? It must be up to the business”.
It may be down to the business – but just consider – is that working for you? Perhaps it’s time to reconsider roles and responsibilities.
Some simple analytics will help you build your case as to ‘the who’ that supports the process, and whether that is you, the manager, an internal team or external specialists. Crunch the numbers to know what’s needed:
- How many people need to change post the learning initiative?
- What time per person needs to be invested in learning transfer (not additional content!) POST the content?
- What numbers or business KPIs do we need to track within this?
- Who in the organisation has the time and the resources to deliver the above?
Once you crunch the numbers and create a plan, you can start to show an outcome from your initiatives and the business will start to sit up and take notice. You’ll start to be seen as a contributor to the strategic development of the organisation – as a problem solver and business contributor, rather than a cost centre.
What’s needed to create a robust Learning Transfer process?
The fundamental requirement is self-reflection. Self-reflection sounds soft and fluffy (and a luxury for many), but you can create success by using these three key elements to make the reflection robust:
- Specific – the reflection must be tailored to the individual, not the group, it’s about them being honest with themselves and their context.
- Structured – they must focus on the actions they have committed to implement post learning. Self-rating on a scale of 1-10 is an easy way to capture information as a start point and to help structure the reflection.
- Accountable – support the individuals to hold themselves accountable to themselves prioritising their learning and implementation of changes for long term gains and business outcomes.
If self-reflection sounds soft and fluffy, accountability can sound hard-nosed – but it’s arguably the most important of those three. In the complex, adaptive systems that many organisations of today are, where people are moving away from the old command and control style of leadership, accountability has become a bit of a dirty word. I feel there is need for a fresh look at how we view accountability. Let’s focus on holding the individuals accountable to themselves. This will create the most profound, powerful and sustainable change. It is essential and fundamental to the Learning Transfer process.
I encourage you as a Learning professional to be bold and step up to the ownership of change post learning. When the results start to come in you’ll be delighted and proud you did.
- Baldwin, T. T., & Ford, J. K. (1988). Transfer of training: A review and directions for future research. PersonnelReview, 26(3), 201-213
- Broad, M. L. & Newstrom, J. W. (1992). Transfer of Training: Action packed strategies to ensure high payoff from training investments, Basic Books
- Olivero. G., Bane, K. D. & Kogelman, R. E. (1997). Executive Coaching as a Transfer of Training Tool: Effects on Productivity in a Public Agency, Public Personnel Management
- Leimbach, M. (2010). Learning transfer model: a research‐driven approach to enhancing learning effectiveness. Industrial and Commercial Training Volume 42, Issue 2
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