Learning action plans: The no cost way to increase learning transfer

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Written by Fergal Connolly on 16 November 2020 in Features
Features

Fergal Connolly has a simple way to improve learning transfer. This way for more...

As a learning professional, the end goal of your learning interventions is not just to improve the learning of participants, but to elicit application of learning back on the job. The process of taking what is learned in a training intervention and applying that learning to an on-the-job setting is known as learning transfer.

It is only through this process that L&D interventions can be said to have made a measurable difference to an employee’s performance. Yet, it is surprisingly rare. Authors disagree on the exact success rate but estimates suggest that only 10-22% of training leads to learning transfer.

This article will outline an easy to implement method that can increase the amount of learning transferred to the role with no set up costs. To understand why there is little transfer, let's take a look at what learners usually do after training.

The noise

When learners return to their work following a typical training event, the first thing they do is check their email, catch up on social media, or chat to their team about what they missed during the training. One thing's for sure, they aren’t thinking about what they can do to turn their learning into tangible improvements on the job.

A poorly defined goal is hard to achieve; without definition it’s hard to know if progress towards the goal has been made.

This influx of information; email, social media, side conversations, scrambles the message the training tried so hard to deliver. The training message now has to compete with office gossip, critical updates from teammates and managers as well as the addictive infinite stream of email and social media for the slim chance of being transferred to the long-term memory of the learner.

Good luck. 

However, as a learning professional, there is something you can do to boost the signal of your training message and increase post-training follow through: learning action plans.

Learning action plans, a learner-generated plan to implement their learning following a training event, can keep the training message clear, and cut through the noise of the post-training onslaught of sensory information to increase the chances of learning implementation and training transfer.

Research on effectiveness of learning action plans

Learning action plans have been shown to increase attention in training and improve performance scores on trained behaviour post-training as well as result in higher goal achievement across a number of domains.

Learning action plans work by:

  • Prompting learners to reflect on their learning 
  • Challenging learners to commit their plans to paper
  • Assigning accountability to learners for following through on their plans 
  • Sharing their plans with their managers / peers

 

Key factors to consider when creating your own learning action plan

Clarity

Learners need to be clear what exactly they want to achieve. A learning action plan should prompt the learner to reflect on their learning and define the elements they will take ownership of for seeing through into action. A poorly defined goal is hard to achieve; without definition it’s hard to know if progress towards the goal has been made.

Desire

Understanding why we want something helps us to formulate in our mind how we get it. Why are you reading this article? Chances are you want to improve the effectiveness of your training, or you want your learners to learn more, or you are dissatisfied with the effectiveness of training in general.

You have a burning desire to improve your training and are looking for practical implementations. With your desire framed clearly in your mind, you are more likely to take steps to follow through and implement learning action plans. Good! Read on. 

Support

Human beings are social animals, we crave interaction with others. Organisations are living organisms, constantly changing and teeming with life and energy generated by the countless interactions made by its people throughout the day.

People help others and require help from others. It’s the same with learning. What help do you need to action your plan? Do you need additional information, if so from who? Maybe you need to check your progress regularly with a colleague or manager? Do you need your manager to help expose you to more situations where you will use your new skills?

Maybe you need time to practice a new skill; and the support of your manager to make this time?


Action 

Now that you’ve defined what, why, and who, it’s time to define how you are going to do it. What specific actions are you going to take and in what situations will you take them? Visualize yourself in that situation following through on your plan.

For example, following a communication skills course: time management training: I am going to block 15 minutes at the start of my day to plan the rest of my day in 30-minute chunks. If I do not complete my task in the allotted 30 minutes, I move to the next task/30 minutes regardless.

Towards the end of your training, ask your learners to take a few moments to think about what they want to change about their behavior based on what they learned in training. Ask them to commit this to paper along with a timeline of when they will do this by, and any support they will need from managers/colleagues to achieve their goal.

Use the template below to rapidly kick-start learning transfer after your next training event:

Learning action plan template

  • What learning would you like to implement from the program?
  • Why is this goal important to you?
  • What specific actions will you take to achieve this goal?
  • In which situations will you take these actions?
  • What support will you require to achieve this goal?

 

Key takeaways

The learning action plan is possibly the most psychologically important tool in your learning transfer toolkit, it leverages decades of human behaviour research in the areas of accountability, social commitment, and goal setting. 

Learning action plans are easy to set up, use the template above and add to the final slide of your training deck, or use the template to create a survey to be sent electronically to learners on completion of self-directed learning modules. 

Want to boost the chances of learning transfer happening? Encourage your learners to send their action plan to their manager and prompt a discussion about their learning and the support required to turn learning into performance.

 

About the author

Fergal Connolly is a learning transfer expert and holds an MSc in Education and Training, and a BSc in Psychology. 

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