How to create effective learning transfer?

Emma Weber focuses her work on learning transfer and its impact on the organisation – here she shares some of her key strategies.

Learning transfer is key to ensure that there is behavioural change in the workplace so that people can do whatever is needed when they get back to the work. There is a need to avoid the training sessions where people may have got the knowledge, but not the change for when they are back at work.

Emma Weber’s work focuses on exactly that topic, behavioural change as part of learning. Not necessarily knowledge, but doing. She comments “L&D programmes that are well received are different from delivering impact to the organisation.” Weber focuses on the outcome of the organisation, saying “the learning transfer is creating the behavioural change, the measurement is the performance of that behaviour.”

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The Learning Exchange was a group conversation about how to create effective learning transfer, which included strategic elements such as building in reflection and accountability, as well as changing the focus from the manager being the sole person supporting the learner.

The first step in Weber’s suite of strategies is to ensure that learners are reflecting and being held accountable to put into place what they did in the learning intervention. Weber commented that the solutions should ensure that they are “not about content. It’s about accountability, reflection and outcome.”

One conversation about learning won’t make behavioural change.

Weber recommends a series of at least three conversations to create behavioural change: “Sometimes an individual comes back from learning, they have a conversation with manager and we say they are a hero. But one conversation about learning won’t make behavioural change. Two conversations is around did it, or didn’t it make an impact. Three conversations for learning intervention allows follow up. This could be two conversations with a specialist, then the manager joins for third conversation about removing barriers for creating momentum going forwards.”

Focusing on the manager, Weber questioned: “what percentage of people are having conversations with managers when they return from programmes? 20 per cent if we are lucky? It depends on the learning maturity of the organisation, and of managers. We’ve been trying to solve the problem of learning transfer with managers for the last fifteen years, with little traction! So let’s think about this differently.”

Weber continued, “are the managers best placed in the organisation to have the conversations? Is there another population in the organisation to work on that learning transfer? For example, if there is a cohort of 250 high potentials they could have the role of learning transfer, having them holding people accountable. It could be the HR business partner, depending on structure. You could have champions of behaviour and they could become role models.”

Emma Weber in conversation with visitors to Learning Technologies 2017. Credit: Training Journal

The focus in the round table discussion was on how to get more ownership from the learner for their behaviour, which in turn should result in greater impact from that individual on business outcomes. One particular question voiced by many L&D professionals as a worry was: to what extent are L&D still needed in this approach?

Weber stated that “the action plan is first step for self-accountability. This comes back to the maturity of managers to have reflective conversations and for employees to share and get over that vulnerability. If not, you need another strategy. Also it depends on strategic importance of the initiative as to how much time you put into this.”

In the group discussion it was commented that “no one would design a learning intervention without the action plan at the end, but it’s the thing that’s missed off, or that people do in their own time or is cut short.”

Weber recommended to “get the learner to make a decision about what they are going to implement. Ask ‘what out of this is most important to me? Why?’ Then it’s about a strategy for holding themselves accountable to themselves. This could be a buddy or specialist to help them, depending on the strategic level of learning. It’s about their ownership.”

Weber concluded the session saying “in learning transfer pick your battles. A robust strategy should be attached to every intervention, but that’s Utopia. Focus on outcomes that are valuable to the business. If business doesn’t see it as that valuable, don’t focus on it.”


Find out more about Emma Weber and learning transfer. Emma is CEO of Lever – Transfer Learning and is on Twitter @EmmaWeber


About the exchange programme:

The LT Exchange is a free opportunity to have round table discussions with some of the world’s most influential learning sector thought-leaders – and is available to all L&D practitioners visiting the Learning Technologies exhibition.

A collaboration between Learning Technologies and Towards Maturity, the Exchanges programme was launched in 2011 with the aim to share effective practice, thought leadership and stimulate innovation in L&D.

This year, the Learning Technologies Exchanges was co-hosted with Training Journal and tackled the practical issues facing today’s L&D leaders: supporting change, leveraging networks, mobile learning, micro learning and how to get ahead with technology in 2017. 

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