3 Quick Tips for Improving Learning Transfer

One of the biggest challenges in corporate learning is not the acquisition or retention of knowledge, but learning transfer. Employees might learn the conceptual knowledge and take in information, but often it’s the application phase where we fall short. You see, learning things is easy (relatively speaking!). However, when trying to apply to learning, you may run into barriers like lack of practice or support, organisational culture, resistance to change, unfitting operational practices etc. Naturally, many of these problems will be outside of the immediate purview of learning and development. However, smart learning design choices enable us to tackle some of these problems already before they emerge.

Thus, here are 3 tips for improving learning transfer:

1. Focus more on practical learning

A lot of corporate learning is not very practical. Courses and programs are often heavy on rather abstract concepts and knowledge. In such cases, the learners are required to bridge the gap between the abstract and the real life themselves. Often, that may be asking too much. It’s not that people are not capable, it’s just that they do have a lot of other things occupying their mind. Hence an overload of conceptual, abstract knowledge often goes to deaf ears.

So, if you want to improve learning transfer, focus on the practical. Focus on how to make the employees succeed at their jobs. And be specific. The learning should put more emphasis on “here’s how you can do things” rather than “here’s what you need to know”. Use learning mediums that serve the purpose. Visual elements may help to illustrate how things work in real life.

2. Provide adequate practice opportunities

Another area where we in corporate learning could do better is giving opportunities to practice. People need to be confident in their ability before they dare to do things in a new way. Hence it’s important that we provide them with a safe environment to practice, make mistakes and fail during our learning programs. Naturally, there are several ways you could do that. If you’re planning to do fully online training, simulations can be a big help in ensuring learning transfer. On the other hand, if you’re running blended learning programs, this might be a good use of the expensive and intensive face-to-face time!

3. Understand the learners’ context

Finally, the biggest hurdle of learning transfer is related to the learners’ context. Even before you start putting together learning content or activities, you should spend time figuring out the work, tasks, routines, responsibilities and environment of the end-users (learners!). To make learning transfer possible, you should identify if any of these might conflict with the objectives of the learning you’re looking to do. On paper, doing something in a particular way may seem feasible, but in practice it might be impossible. Therefore it’s important to know the practical environment and setting – the context – of the learners. Otherwise, you’ll end up producing a lot of learning that can never really be applied.

Final words

Learning transfer is not always easy. However, good design methods, time spent on discovery and focus on practical things can help a lot. Of course, you should never forget the importance of relevance in corporate learning. Furthermore, it’s also important to provide a support infrastructure that acts as a safety net for the learners. As we solve these kind of problems, we are gradually getting closer to learning with real impact. After all, if people don’t apply the knowledge, our work has been meaningless.

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