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The training cycle: Plugging the leaks


In this feature to conclude our month's focus on the training cycle, Tim Drewitt, a Director at Balance Learning, looks at some of the issues around putting learning into action.

So the training needs analysis has taken place, the course has been designed and delivered and it’s time to put the learning into practice. Sounds simple, but how confident are we that the learning is actually put into practice? When we wave the delegates goodbye at the end of the workshop, how often do we wonder how much of the new skills and knowledge will be put into practice.

Industry data suggests transfer of learning rates as low as 15 per cent, so clearly something happens…or rather doesn’t happen! I call this “learning leakage” - learning that drips out of the “learning pipe” between the “source” (the instruction) and the point of “consumption” (the application in the workplace).

Plugging the leaks will help to maximise the transfer of learning. So how do we do this? Here are four questions you should ask. Each question follows on from the previous one and the leakage effects are cumulative.

Step One: Was the Training Required in the First Place?

This may not be a surprise, but training is often not put into practice because it was not required in the first place! The student may already be accomplished in that skill or have no need for it in their current role, so will not make any special attempts to demonstrate it back on the job. It is therefore important to survey students before they attend training courses and be prepared to be flexible in determining what content is delivered to which delegates.
Online surveying and learning object-based design of e-learning and classroom training will facilitate this process.

Step Two: Was the Training Understood?

The next step is to make sure the learner understood the training they received. If not, then it may be difficult for them to put the learning into practice or to do so correctly. Consistent patterns of misunderstanding highlight the need for a redesign of the training. Pre and post-course testing can help here, together with pertinent comments on any course evaluation forms.

Step Three: Was the Training Put Into Practice?

If the first two steps were a subtle examination of any “learning leakage”, then this step is more overt. We need to ask learners how much of the training they put into practice when achieving their objectives. Where they did not need to use it all, we need to find out why. Was it simply irrelevant for the particular task in hand? Did they simply have no use for it or were other factors preventing them from putting the learning into practice? Did they find it difficult to draw links between otherwise good training and the real world environment? The answers to these questions will affect any redesign of the training, e.g. removing irrelevancies or working with the organisation on removing learning transfer obstacles.

Post course evaluation forms can assist in gathering this type of data. A more proactive method would be to distribute transfer of learning activities to each learner at specific times after the main training event, so facilitating the linkage between the training received and everyday tasks.

Step Four: Was the Training Useful?

Putting the training into practice is one thing, judging it to be a success is another. So it’s important to ask if the training they practiced was useful. Training that failed to prove its usefulness or could not be understood when it came to being applied in a real world situation will be quickly rejected. It can send out the wrong messages and requires a redesign if the programme is to be continued and regarded in a positive light.

Post course evaluation forms are again useful here, but so is the role of the trainer and line manager of coach, helping to troubleshoot any perceived failings in the training to deliver results and helping with the application and tailoring of the new skills and knowledge to meet the task at hand.


To summarise then, “leakage” can occur at four points. To maximise the transfer of leaning, the training needs to be:

1. Received and required
2. Received and understood
3. Received and put into practice
4. Received and judged a success

About the Author

Tim is a founder Director of Balance Learning and is responsible for ensuring that Balance Learning products meet the needs of customers.

Previously, Tim was Head of Professional Learning Services at Xebec McGraw-Hill, where he directed the worldwide training consultancy division and Flexible Learning Integration Manager at Lloyds TSB, responsible for the Bank’s extensive network of over 450 learning centres.


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