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Learning transfer: how to improve it and increase the value of learning

Learning transfer: why is it important?

According to a general definition, learning transfer “occurs when people apply information, strategies, and skills they have learned to a new situation or context”. Has it ever happened to you, back in school, to participate in a certain class and ask yourself, why am I even learning this? I’ll never use it in real life. Probably yes, it has happened to all of us. That is directly linked to the ability to transfer knowledge that you’ve gained from one context to an entirely different one.

Back in school, you had no choice but to listen to and try to learn what the curriculum advised. However, for an adult who constantly tries to balance the personal with the professional life, getting all the tasks done during working hours, learning things that one will never apply in real life does not bring any return on investment. 

To put it differently, a corporate learning program should lead to learning transfer, delivering knowledge and skills that employees can further use in real-life situations. According to this article, once you develop the learning transfer ability, you could change roles and even careers, and still be able to apply your prior knowledge to new professional situations. 

More and more learning and development managers and specialists are aware of the importance of learning transfer, and they come up with training plans that address three stages of learning, all impacting the ability of learning transfer. The first stage refers to all the steps before the training itself, where the specialists in charge with the learning activities should focus on defining clear learning objectives and outcomes, and designing the training in such a way that it meets the objectives and it supports learning transfer.

The second stage refers to the delivery of the training programs, with a focus on making it relevant for learners by encouraging them to apply the theoretical knowledge in a context similar to their daily job. Lastly, the third stage, meaning the after training phase is fundamental, and organizations should create working environments that provide time and contexts to practice the newly acquired skills.

Also, after the training, learners should be able to access training resources, which is a valuable way to transfer knowledge. Sometimes, this is the most challenging step of a learning journey, because even if organizations direct their attention towards delivering efficient learning programs for their employees, they sometimes fail in creating post-training environments that foster learning transfer. This drastically reduces the effectiveness of a learning program and more often than not, it leads to an inability to accomplish the learning objectives. 

There are many studies that support the importance of learning transfer, with the Spacing Learning Events Over Time: What the Research Says by Will Thalheimer stating that knowledge is easily forgotten after a training session. 

learning transfer 1

We will talk more about the main ideas identified in this study, but shortly, the author talks about the role of instructional designers to make sure they maximize learning and minimizing forgetting, leading to increased levels of knowledge retention and encouraging learning transfer at the same time. This should be the objective of every professional involved in the organization and delivery of the learning process, but the question is what can be done to foster learning transfer at the level of corporate training programs. 

Three ways of fostering learning transfer

  1. Focus on the why of a learning process

Why do you deliver a specific training program to employees? Why is that training relevant for them and their professional development? If learners are able to see the reasoning behind this, and they can understand how their existing learning can be enriched by the newly acquired knowledge, they will most probably turn from passive learners to active ones, constantly thinking about how this training program will be applied in their job to help them accomplish some short or long term goals. 

  1. Use multiple learning formats

Try combining written information with visuals and storytelling to make sure people retain more of what the trainer is saying to them. Some people are visual learners, others are auditory or written learners, and combining all these methods to deliver training to a group of people might prove valuable in retaining information. 

  1. Try generalization

“Generalization is the concept that humans and other animals use past learning in present situations of learning if the conditions in the situations are regarded as similar” (source). This is effective for learning transfer because the learner gets to see the bigger picture. Also, when you use this concept, you can link prior knowledge to the training program you are taking at the moment, and see how everything can be later applied. 

To wrap-it-up, the concept of learning transfer is sometimes underestimated, which impacts the overall outcome of any training program, no matter how well organized it is. That’s why professionals should focus more on its importance, finding ways to encourage learning transfer on the job. 

Some (final) thoughts

If you are looking for an eLearning platform or you already use one but the effectiveness of the learning experience is not satisfactory, drop us a line, we’d be happy to show you around Knolyx.

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