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Robin Hoyle

Huthwaite International

Head of Learning Innovation at Huthwaite International

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Book review: Turning Learning into Action by Emma Weber


At some point every trainer has had to justify their existence, usually by listing objectives achieved and outcomes delivered. The simple fact, though, as Emma Weber concisely and clearly describes in the introduction to Turning Learning into Action: “Training doesn’t work in its current format because there is nowhere near enough support after the training to help participants make the changes to their behaviour”.

Turning Learning into Action is a well-argued description of how training and learning in organisations is falling short; what can be done about it and how these different actions can benefit not only trainers and their participants but other stakeholders whose involvement is crucial for success.

In part one, Weber explains in some detail why training courses and learning interventions don’t regularly lead to the promised or anticipated behaviour change back at the sharp end. Some of this is material most will be familiar with – how ADDIE instructional design processes focus on how to build a course not how to do something with what may have been learned. Weber is also very good on the shortfalls of 70:20:10. She recognises that a badly applied model – where organisational thinking which goes no further than the headline percentages – provides organisations with, as she says: “a huge reason to slash their training budget”. I couldn’t agree more and it’s refreshing to find someone else voicing the heretical notion that 70:20:10 may not be the path to enlightenment wished for by many of its advocates.

Unlike other recent commentators on training and learning in organisations, Weber is not anti-training, nor does she think training is merely about being a presenter. In fact, one refreshing section talks in detail about training’s obsession with content – the desire to fill participants with knowledge which a) they will forget and b) won’t change behaviour.

It is in part 2, where Weber details the Learning Transfer Solution,that the L&D or HR team will really get to grip with some clear and positive solutions. Turning Learning into Action is not only the name of the book, but also a toolkit of approaches which Weber has been using over the course of the last decade. This section of the book – the meatiest and most practical – is a series of proven activities, which harness the power of reflection by learners to really make a difference back on the job. There is a clear acknowledgement that training doesn’t end at the classroom door, but also a very clear belief that abandoning course participants or eLearning users to muddle through without solid and serious action planning and an associated follow up is futile and wastes the time and resources invested in designing and delivering the intervention in the first place. This is a call to arms with the weapons provided.

There’s a lot of great stuff here. Almost too much to take in, but each chapter has a handy summary so the reader can easily re-locate each specific tip and technique and undertake their own reflection in preparation for action. Weber talks about simple solutions rather the potential over-complication of various online tools. In fact, her most effective tool, she says, is the humble telephone. She is clear however, that to use the phone well, both learner and TLA coach must schedule the call and treat it with the seriousness of a face to face meeting. This is not to say that the phone is the face to face coaching session’s poor relation. Far from it. Weber makes the confident, not to say bullish statements that: “it is like whispering in someone’s ear” and “the individual cannot see their coach (and) as a result they feel less self-conscious and more likely to open up and be honest”. It is a powerful commitment to the telephone and one which I initially thought would be less effective than skype or other video-cam based approaches. But Weber is adamant – voice only works best.

The final section of Turning Learning into Action provides clear guidance to the potential different players. Which trainer hasn’t asked the question: ‘How do I get line managers involved?’ Here Weber answers that questions but also points out times and situations where the line manager is not the best person to assist their team members in making the required changes to their behaviour.

If you’ve ever been frustrated that the hard work put into creating the ‘perfect’ training programmes has been undermined by low levels of commitment to doing things differently and doing different things once the formal training input is over, then you will not be alone in the field of L&D. In Turning Learning into Action, Emma Weber has provided some straightforward and instantly applicable routes away from that frustration being repeated in the future.

Robin Hoyle is a trainer and consultant and the author of Complete Training published by Kogan Page.

One Response

  1. Thank you for the review, Robin

    Hi Robin,
    Thanks for the review and the kind words!
    It's great to hear you agree in regards to the pitfalls of organisational thinking which goes no further than the headline percentages. For true learning transfer, as trainers and L&D professionals we need to look beyond this.
    I'm glad you found the summary sections helpful – I wanted to make sure that the information was quick and easy to revise and implement.
    Emma Weber, Lever – Transfer of Learning
Author Profile Picture
Robin Hoyle

Head of Learning Innovation at Huthwaite International

Read more from Robin Hoyle

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