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Peter Coley

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How to get a good transfer of learning into the workplace


Peter Coley looks at how to ensure staff get the most from training and learn how to apply it to the workplace.

It is estimated that only 10-30% of training is ever used by staff in the workplace. This poses an interesting challenge. L&D professionals have a key role to play in ensuring that as much learning as possible is retained, and more importantly, applied in the workplace, to ensure ROI is delivered and the business case for learning continues to resonate.

So what is the most efficient and effective way to maximise the transfer of learning into usage in the workplace?
First we must consider the factors that influence the level of retention and application. I believe the key elements include the motivation of the learner, setting a positive approach to learning from the start, the contribution of line managers in supporting and reinforcing the application of the learning and putting effective evaluation measurement schemes in place.

"The line manager has an important part to play, both before and after the programme, in implementing the transferral of learning into the workplace."

Identifying what factors motivate the learners is imperative. Before engaging with a scheme, people want to know "What’s in it for me?" So the L&D specialist needs to perceive and proactively answer this need for them before the programme is launched so that they buy-in to the activity.

However, discovering how a person is motivated is not easy, largely because we are often unaware of what our own motivational factors are. It can be useful, therefore, for L&D professionals to research and to draw upon their own experiences.

How the involvement in the training is presented to the prospective learners can have a major impact in preparing for the transferral of learning.

To hear "You must attend this training, it’s mandatory!" or "I think you need to attend this training," is neither motivational nor empowering, in fact such phrases create a negative mindset, yet they are unfortunately too commonly used to invite a learner. 

It would be best to opt for a multi-faceted but positive approach which conveys the benefits, the practicalities and the key learning elements in a way which are relevant to them. This all helps to set the tone and the learners’ attitudes to the learning in the best possible frame.

The line manager has an important part to play, both before and after the programme, in implementing the transferral of learning into the workplace. They know their staff and can communicate with them in a way that is relevant. L&D professionals should work with line managers as they have a key role to play in every step of the process by demonstrating their support and their commitment to the learning, and ensuring their staff are engaged throughout the learning process.

Line managers and L&D professionals together should ensure that the learning is in context and is taking place at the most opportune times for the learner and their role. Managers can also help employees put their learning into practice by ensuring the facilities and opportunities are available.

For example, if a member of staff has been on a training course about PowerPoint, they need to have the software available to them and the opportunity to use it as part of their work straight away or they risk losing the knowledge and the enthusiasm. 

Finally, evaluation of the learning experience is essential to measure what behavioural change has occurred. However, it must not be left until the end of the process. It must be ongoing right from the start. After all, if you don’t measure the before, how will you be able to compare it to the after? 

The process to drive behavioural change needs to be planned carefully and can involve key people from across the business in order for the communication and implementation to be relevant and effective. This all works to deliver a change that is sustained and delivers results for the organisation.

Peter Coley, head of learning and development at St Mungo’s is speaking at The World of Learning Conference along with Louise Charlton, Director & Training Consultant at Aisling Consultancy. Together they will address Maximising the transferral of learning into behavioural change. For more details about the World of Learning 2011 and about attending the event, visit


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