3 Learning Transfer Strategies from the best businesses

2019.10.05 Jonathan Deller
3 Learning Transfer Strategies from the best businesses

If you’ve been following our transfer learning series, you may have checked out our beginner’s guide to learning transfer in 2019. In that guide, we briefly touched upon a range of the most effective learning transfer strategies. But which strategies are most effective? That’s the question we set out to answer in this post.

In this post, we’ll give you a complete guide to the most effective learning transfer strategies from the best businesses. We’ll show you what works and why, and help you decide which strategies could be a good fit for your business in 2019 and beyond.

The top three learning transfer strategies are:

Strategy 1. Use a learning evaluation model to inform learning transfer activity choice
Strategy 2. Group learning transfer activities into categories
Strategy 3. Choose learning transfer activities according to their impact


Implementing these three strategies in your organization will help you boost learning transfer and maximize the impact of your training.

Strategy 1. Use a learning evaluation model to inform learning transfer activity choice

Learning transfer strategies address the age-old problem of how to create tangible business benefits from training and learning initiatives.

Most estimates suggest that 20 percent of learning investments made by organizations actually result in work performance changes.

Even worse, research conducted by Saks and Belcort in 2006 showed that skills usage actually declines over time: 12 months after a training event, just 35 percent of the skills, behaviors, and competencies are typically still in use by participants.  

This problem is faced by organizations around the globe and has been widely researched and accepted.

The first strategy that top businesses use to implement learning transfer is using a learning evaluation model to inform their decision of which learning transfer activities to implement.  

Why?

Learning evaluation models, such as the Kirkpatrick Model, measure both learning outcomes and performance outcomes. This approach helps businesses see where training is working and where it isn’t. This data can be used to inform what type of learning transfer activities that will produce the best results.

3 Learning Transfer Strategies from the best businesses

Let’s briefly look at how this works in practice.

In our example, company A manufactures fidget spinners for clients all over the world. Key company stakeholders (the owner, CEO and general manager) decide to invest in a training course that will help boost production rates by training workers to follow a new technique that helps them perform their duties faster.

To determine the effectiveness of this training, the stakeholders decide to use the Kirkpatrick Model.

They start with Level 1 – Reaction – and measure how their employees reacted to the training by giving them a short survey.

Next, they proceed through Level 2 – Learning – and analyze whether the employees understood their training. A short practical test would any improvements in their skills and knowledge.

After a period of two months or so, the company would implement level 3 – Behavior. They would look at whether their employees were utilizing what they have learned at work. In other words, was there a change in their behavior?

The final level – Results – would compare the Learning and Behavior findings and examine whether they had met the stakeholders’ original expectations, e.g., had the training created tangible business benefits by helping the company’s employees to complete their duties faster?

So how are these finding used to inform learning transfer strategy choice?

The stakeholders would examine the results and see which areas had a low rate of learning transfer.

For example, if the Level 2 – Learning – results were poor and showed limited improvement in working rates, the company’s stakeholders could implement learning transfer strategies that addressed this stage of the training.

For example:

  • They could ask employees to set specific goals for their learning to improve the likelihood that they will use the skills during their daily work.
  • They could extend the learning beyond the initial training event by offering content reviews or practical demonstrations of how to apply certain skills to specific work tasks.

But what if the Level 2 results were impressive, and the Level 3 results showed that limited improvements were seen in employees on-the-job performance? In this case, the company would need to implement learning transfer strategies that help support employees transfer their learning to the workplace.

For example, the organization could offer more opportunities for practice during the training, to boost learning transfer rates.

Lastly, if the Level 4 outcomes showed that the stakeholders’ expectations weren’t met, they would need to implement learning transfer strategies that helped address this. One approach could be working on developing more of a working culture where changes were more readily embraced and implemented.

Strategy 2. Group learning transfer activities into categories

The second strategy used by top organizations is grouping learning transfer activities into categories. This makes it easier to match the right activities with the needs of the organization and its employees.

The most common approach is to use three primary categories:

  • Learner readiness activities
  • Learning design activities
  • Organizational alignment activities

Let’s briefly look at how this works.

Learner readiness activities
Activities in this category focus on preparing the learners to engage with the training. Organizations that run training and get poor learning outcomes may be interested in using this type of learning transfer activity to boost the effectiveness of the training in the future.

Learner readiness means helping the participants to engage psychologically and mentally with the training. Such activities could include:

  • Learner goals
  • Motivation
  • Self-efficacy
  • and more!

For organizations following the Kirkpatrick Model, poor Level 2 results would indicate that learning readiness learning transfer activities are the ones to implement.

Learning design activities
In the second category, we have activities that help improve instructional design. In other words, how the training course or seminar is designed and implemented.

Organizations who are using the Kirkpatrick Model and find poor Level 2 or Level 3 results may be interested in these types of activities. If participants are learning on the training and aren’t implementing what they learned in the workplace, there’s likely a learning design activity that can help.

To increase the effectiveness of training, the following learning transfer activities could be considered:

  • Increasing/improving practice activities
  • Role modeling
  • Setting learning goals
  • Additional support for applying training.

These activities should help support employees to implement their new skills, behaviors, and competencies at the workplace more effectively. For example, the training could be improved by having greater opportunities for role modeling. Or employees could be given more support in the workplace to implement what they’ve used.

Organizational alignment activities
In the third category, you’ve got learning transfer activities that help an organization support the use of skills. These include:

  • Manager coaching
  • Peer support
  • Creating a learning culture and connecting learning to the job.

Organizations that are following the Kirkpatrick model and find that Level 3 results show that learning isn’t being implemented, may be interested in activities at this level.

These activities would also help organizations that have poor performance outcomes at Level 4. If the training isn’t meeting stakeholders’ expectations, it may be that the company needs to create a learning culture.

Overall, grouping learning transfer activities into these three categories is one of the best learning transfer strategies. It helps you to meet the needs of your employees and ensure that they are given the best possible chance to implement what they have learned.

Strategy 3. Choose learning transfer activities according to impact

Once an organization has evaluated its training (using the Kirkpatrick mode or other learning evaluation model) and they have decided which type of learning transfer activity would help their workers, it’s time to implement the next strategy; Choosing learning transfer activities.

While it would be theoretically possible to implement all learning transfer strategies, this would be neither cost-effective, nor conducive to staff productivity. To make the best use of funds and available time, a smarter strategy is to look at which activities have the biggest impact on learning outcomes.

Research by Wilson Learning found that for each category of learning transfer activities, certain activities made a bigger impact than others.

In terms of learner readiness activities, motivation to learn activities were found to have the biggest impact. These activities focus on preparing learners to learn. This helps to boost learning transfer rates.

In the category of learning design activities, practice and modelling activities were found to be the most effective. The more time that a training course devoted to practice, the higher the rate of learning transfer.

Lastly, in terms of organizational alignment activities, peer support activities were judged to be most effective, surpassing even manager coaching and support.

Let’s look at each of these activities in a little greater detail.

Motivation to learn activities

If your training evaluation results show that there’s a problem with learning (Kirkpatrick Level 2), research shows that you’ll want to focus on activities that motivate your employees to learn. These activities will help your staff understand the importance of being life-long learners and helps them see the value that learning offers.

There is a range of available activities to choose from, such as addressing learning anxiety, helping staff appreciate the value of learning and promoting the concept of lifelong learning.

While these activities won’t retrospectively help staff who have already completed training, it may be helping to run these activities prior to future training sessions. This should help boost learning and foster greater adoption of news skills in the workplace.

Alternatively, an organization could offer these activities after the training and then supplement the initial training event with follow-up training sessions.

Practice and modelling activities

If your learning evaluation results show that there’s a problem with implementing learning in the workplace (Kirkpatrick Level 3), you’ll want to focus on practice and modeling activities during the learning.

You may have to change the training for future trainees, or you could run supplementary training sessions with more practice and behavioral modeling for employees who already completed the training but weren’t able to implement it on the job.

Research shows that the closer that the practice and modeling portion of training replicates real-life situations and environment, the greater the learning transfer will be. If your employees are getting good learning results (Kirkpatrick Level 2) but struggle to make changes to their on-the-job performance (Kirkpatrick Level 3), overhauling the practicing and modeling aspect of your training should be your go-to option.

Peer support activities

Research has shown that while manager support is critically important for employees to implement what they have learned on the job, peer support is equally if not more important. Peer support has a very high level of impact in terms of improving learning transfer, and it’s definitely worth looking at if your training evaluation shows that workplace behavior (Kirkpatrick Level 3) hasn’t improved much.

One of the most common peer support activities is peer-observations, where one employee observes their peers and gives feedback about what they are or aren’t doing well. Peer-observations are helping because they give employees time to critically self-reflect and make themselves accountable for their training and the results. Research from the Harvard Business Review found that reflecting on learning is far more influential than learning from experience, so peer-reviews are excellent for self-reflection and seeing ways to implement what they have learned.

Conclusion

If you were wondering what the best businesses are doing to boost learning transfer in 2019, that’s about it.

While these strategies are by no means all the learning transfer strategies out there, they do help to generate results and can ensure that money invested in staff training is being used efficiently.

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Kristoffer
Kristoffer Laag
HR Strategist