Running Head: LEARNING TRANSFER Learning Transfer Andrea Lala Colorado State University LEARNING TRANSFER 1 What is Learning Transfer? We hear so much about it as adult educators. There are whole programs and conferences available to help us learn how to facilitate learning transfer. Earl Thomas describes learning transfer as “the ability to appropriately apply information and skills learned in one setting to a similar or different setting.” (Thomas, 2007, p. 5) While this seems like a simple concept, there are several authors who have argued against the idea of learning transfer. In the following pages, I will review the augments for and against learning transfer as a learning concept. In addition, I will discuss learning transfer in the workplace and how I view the transfer of learning from the training room to the employee’s desk. Paul Hager and Phil Hodkinson take a very cynical view of learning transfer. They argue “it is more realistic to view ‘transfer’ as renovation and expansion of previous knowledge via the experience of dealing with new situations in new settings. Here, learning is more accurately viewed as an ongoing process rather than a series of distinct acquisition events.” (Hager and Hodkinson, 2009, p. 620) They go on to suggest, “Learning transfer is an unsatisfactory way of understanding learning.” (Hager and Hodkinson, 2009, p. 629) They conclude that moving learning from location to location (or applying learned skills in different settings) is not transfer, it is learning. While this seems like a logical statement, it is my belief that learning transfer should be considered in program planning and evaluated so that adult educators can feel confident that skills have not been learned in isolation and will carry over into the workplace. Jim Kirkpatrick believes that learning transfer should be measured to show the value of training programs. He states, “The best demonstration of value occurs when learning translates into lasting behavior change.” (Kirkpatrick, 2005, p. 19) He studied instances where learning transfer did not occur and he found that senior and junior-level managers “did little or nothing to create accountability or support new behaviors.” (Kirkpatrick, 2005, p. 19) He argues that we as LEARNING TRANSFER 2 educators, need to balance accountability and support for participants through evaluation of training programs, improving coaching behaviors through training, and collaborating with our peers for ideas. Hager and Hodkinson describe several lenses that describe learning. An understanding of learning helps to define when transfer happens (or doesn’t in their opinion). Each of these learning lenses looks at what it learnt, either in a specific context or not. Looking through the lenses we can see that learning can take place around a skill (outside of the learner), a product (an idea inside of the learner), or a social skill (outside of the learner in a social situation). (Hager and Hodkinson, 2009, pps. 622-629) I find it important to recognize that learning can be centered around skills, ideas or social interactions. These area valuable concepts when looking at learning, After looking at the lenses they go on to say that learning transfer is a metaphor not a literal reality.” (Hagar and Hodkinson, 2009, p. 630) I disagree with this statement. While I can see the reasonableness of this argument, to me learning transfer is reality. As I plan new programs and facilitate instruction, it is important to understand how the learning will be applied and used in the workplace. I must be able to understand what success will look like for my learners. Learning transfer is the outward demonstration of this success and it is how my learners take what they have learnt and apply it to their own real-world experiences. I think it comes down to how we plan and prepare learning events and programs. In his article, Thoughtful Planning Fosters Learning Transfer, Earl Thomas criticizes adult educators for not planning how learners will apply newly learned skills. He argues that creating a strategy for learning transfer should be a part of the planning process as instruction is developed. He suggests three points in the learning process to consider learning transfer: before the learning takes place to determine how and in what context transfer will take place, during the learning LEARNING TRANSFER 3 experience to create support systems for the learner to help facilitate learning transfer, and after the learning event to create experiences for the learner to apply the new skills in their actual work setting. (Thomas, 2007, p. 5) Thomas suggests, “Adult educators who practice thoughtful approaches to learning transfer are more likely to see it occur.” (Thomas, 2005, p. 6) He says that adult educators should plan for learning transfer by using specific objectives, strategies to support the objectives, identify the barriers to the achievement of the outcomes, create plans for follow-up, and clearly state the criteria for success. During EDAE 629 Program Planning, I developed a program series for Lead LPNs within the outpatient clinics at the medical center I work for to help develop leadership skills in the LPNs who have a leadership role within their clinics. As I went through each of the activities to create the program, I was doing what Thomas suggests. I thoughtfully planned how my learners will apply the new skills through activities, journal reflection, online discussion and classroom dialogue. As I am currently implementing the program, I can say that I have taken the time to consider transfer in the program planning and during the learning. I have not been reflecting after each learning session, but with Thomas’s encouragement I will do this after this month’s event. Thomas also identified several barriers to learning transfer. They include, lack of foundational knowledge, lack of motivation or confidence by the learner and lack of support by peers or supervisors to help support the new skill(s). (Thomas, 2007, pps. 5-6) Kirkpatrick also found that learning transfer is hindered when managers do not create accountability or support the newly acquired skills or behaviors. (Kirkpatrick, 2005, p. 19) That is why I have always tried to achieve supervisor buy-in as I develop and implement new programs. LEARNING TRANSFER 4 Maurice Taylor found similar factors that influence learning transfer in his study of workplace learning. He identified lack of reinforcement to apply learning to the job as the main reason that learning transfer does not occur. In addition he stated “working with time pressures, insufficient authority, ineffective work processes or inadequate equipment” as environmental impediments to learning transfer. (Taylor, 2000, p. 4) He infers from this that even if employees are motivated to change, they may not be able to use the news skills based upon obstacles placed in their way. Taylor also identifies the “lack of active support by the organizational climate for the transfer of the program’s content or skills to the workplace.” (Taylor, 2000, p. 4) In looking at barriers to learning transfer, Taylor reviewed those that are under the control of the instructor and the student. Instructional barriers that he identified were organizational, programmatic, lack of support, and learner attitude. Program elements that contribute to the transfer of learning include: the session length, the time of day the session is offered, the size of the class, and the location of the class. Student barriers include motivation, attitude, confidence and time commitments. Taylor also saw the inability to apply the new learning and practice the new skills as a barrier. (Taylor, 2000, pps. 7-9) In program planning, I try to accommodate the program elements in my process. I limit class size where I can, try to keep the location consistent and not move rooms between sessions; I also consider the time of day for each session so that a session that is very challenging is not offered late in the day. I think it is also important to encourage our students to apply newly learned skills. When that doesn’t happen, I have had to retrain students. I have always had the belief that it is OK to retake a training session if you didn’t “get” the skill in training or didn’t have a chance to apply it. LEARNING TRANSFER 5 Taylor didn’t just identify problems in his article; he also presented some common sense ideas to help facilitate learning transfer. For both the learner and the instructor he gives suggestions on how to improve learning transfer. For instructors he suggests that we do the following: Identify what is to be transferred Use a variety contextual teaching techniques, such as real world example, simulation, and linking learning to the learners experiences Evaluation of the program once it is complete to understand when and how transfer occurred. (Taylor, 2000, p. 7) Reflecting again on the LPN Leadership program I developed in EDAE 629, I found that the activities and concepts that are used in the instructional design process helped to ensure the transfer of learning takes place. I must admit that writing objectives and program goals is not my favorite activity but it will be worth it if my learners are able to apply what we discuss in our LPN Leadership sessions. Other portions of EDAE 629 were also part of the best practices identified by Thomas such as trying to create a variety of activities for the learners and the program evaluations that we conducted. For the learner, Taylor suggests that programs that are structured around the needs and wants of the learner are more successful at achieving learning transfer. He also suggests that a transfer of learning plan be developed between learner and his/her supervisor. This plan helps to identify what is to be learned, how it is to be learned, and when learning is to take place. This plan can help motivate learners to apply the new skills and give them guidelines on how to use these new skills. (Taylor, 2000, pps. 8-9) LEARNING TRANSFER 6 To me learning transfer is not a metaphor. It is what I need to accomplish as an instructor, a program developer, and training manager. I am ultimately responsible to make sure the learners who participate in the programs we develop and deliver are able to take the skills back to their desks and apply them. Learners need to know how to recall what was learned in one context and apply it in another. This is transfer. If I am not able to facilitate this transfer, I am not successful in my facilitation of learning. What is the point of learning a skill in the training room if you can’t apply it when you are working with a patient? LEARNING TRANSFER 7 References Hager, P., & Hodkinson, P. (2009). Moving beyond the metaphor of transfer of learning. British Educational Research Journal, 35(4), 619-638. doi:10.1080/01411920802642371 Kirkpatrick, J. (2005). Transferring Learning to Behavior. T+D, 59(4), 19-20. Taylor, M. C. (2000). Transfer of Learning in Workplace Literacy Programs. Adult Basic Education, 10(1), 3-20. Thomas, E. (2007). Thoughtful Planning Fosters Learning Transfer. Adult Learning, 18(3-4), 48.