How do we harvest the most benefit from sending employees on a training course? It is vital to think about transfer of learnings from the classroom to the work environment when we design courses. In Green-Jakobsen we make sure the course design accommodates an easy transfer of learnings so that our clients can harvest the most benefit from sending employees on our training courses.

Have you ever attended a classroom course that left you inspired and motivated to go back to your workplace and just start doing? And then, once you got back, realised that it was really difficult to apply or even hold on to the new input from the course because everything back at work was still the same?

We at Green-Jakobsen know that feeling. Some people call it ‘transfer of learning’ and talk about the difficulties in applying what has been learned in one context (the classroom) into another context (the workplace). It is not only a frustration for the individual employee but also for the company as a whole since the training investment is not paying off to the full extent.

It is not only a frustration for the individual employee but also for the company as a whole since the training investment is not paying off to the full extent

This article explains about the transfer gap between training context and workplace context. It outlines what we in Green-Jakobsen can do as course providers and how we try to design custom training programmes so that the training has optimum effect. Factors on the workplace side and the individual characteristics in play are also touched upon – all tying into a model that shows the different facets affecting learning transfer.

Context matters

To harvest the full benefit of any training, it is vital to pay attention to the gap – the distance and path the learning has to travel in its transfer – between the training context and the workplace context.

So many elements can be lost in this transition, particularly if there is a big leap from the training context to your workplace context, for instance:

If you were the only one from your workplace attending the training course, then you are the only one who has changed perspective or gained this new insight. How do you then singlehandedly implement new ways of doing things?
Or if the trainer has very little insight into your work and therefore lacks the ability to use cases and examples that relates to your work
Perhaps your new knowledge requires support or changes to your tasks in order to come into play, and how do you manage that? Alone? On top of everything else?

On the other hand, when the transition from training setting to workplace setting is easy, it is more straightforward to make use of the new learnings right away.

This is why on-the-job training is usually effectful; the training context and workplace context is basically the same. But flying in industry safety culture and leadership development experts to all vessels and offices is often not an option.

A good alternative, though, is to make sure the training is developed to accommodate the workplace context and designed to ease the transfer of learning. To do this, it is important with an understanding of the different factors that affect the learning transfer and therefore the quality of the course output.

Three overall factors that affect transfer

Roughly, there are three factors in play, illustrated by the model below. As course developers, training design is the one, we in Green-Jakobsen have most influence on, but the other two are equally important to consider.

Training design

To help the learning transfer along, there are several training design knobs we as course providers can turn, particularly when we tailor leadership training programmes to fit individual companies:

Digging into our industry expertise and linking the course content to the actual work situation, e.g. using concrete work situations as cases and examples
Underlining the relevance by tying in company values, principles, etc., and referring to them throughout the course
Encouraging companies to send more than one delegate from each workplace context in order to feed on the peer synergy that happens between two or more people attending the same course
Including both vessel crew and their contacts ashore in the training to make sure there is a shared insight between the two workplace contexts
Making sure the delegates are equipped and supported with tools to help apply their learning and also to keep reflecting on their development once back in normal work context (learning after performing)
Aligning content and processes as much as possible with the existing company systems (e.g. HR-systems)

The work environment

Experience tells us that the most fruitful benefit harvest from training programmes comes when the organisation holding the actual work environment backs up the training by:

Ensuring support from supervisors to help sustain the learning and create an environment where development is encouraged. Have them offer their support and ask the participants about the outcome; how it has been useful in day-to-day business and what kind of support they need to implement the new learning and possibly even continue development
Sending off a selected group of people to the same course to create a peer support synergy that strengthens the learning transfer
Facilitating continued development for instance with follow-up reflection tools or repeated learning situations
Embedding systematic feedback into corporate systems maintains a continuous development focus. This could be by adding relevant focus points in the performance management system. Ideally, the employees have influence on the choice of these focus points for ongoing development, lifting the individual level of motivation

Individual characteristics

Without going into detail, the individual characteristics of the person attending a training course are obvious contributors to the success of learning transfer from training context to workplace context. Namely:

Their motivation
Whether the training seems relevant
Their self-efficacy and capacity to retain knowledge

The term ‘self-efficacy’ refers to the concept of each individual’s belief in their own ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task – people with high self-efficacy will most likely put in the effort needed to succeed.

As course providers we can try to motivate and appeal to different styles of learning by using creative processes involving people actively and fostering individual reflection. But aside from this, the individual characteristics are outside our influence.

Designing the training to ease transfer

As an example of how these factors come together, we are currently revamping leadership training (top 6 employees on board) for one of our clients. This client has been on a strategic journey for years in their effort to build a strong safety culture. They are on the right path but need some input tying all initiatives together and making them come to life among all employees. They have defined company values, made policies and even described the ways they’d like employees to behave, and based on these existing efforts, we have designed a training programme.

The training programme is not introduced to employees as something new but as a natural extension of what has already been happening for a while. We use the client’s own terms and values, we tie in their described behaviours and build on their appraisal system structure to make sure the outcome of the course is embedded and supported continuously. Participants are encouraged to reflect on their learnings during the course and equipped with tools to continue to do so after the course. Besides training the top 6 on board, their points of contact on the shore side, e.g. Superintendents, are also exposed to the training in a scaled down form.

Besides training the top 6 on board, their points of contact on the shore side are also exposed to the training

A joint effort

All three factors have to play together to reach the best outcome; Training design, work environment and individual characteristics. In this case:

As course providers, we have paid consideration to learning transfer in the design of the course, for instance by building on the initiatives that our client has already started and paving the way for continuous development back on board in the work context.

The client has contributed to easing the transfer by exposing a major employee group as well as their primary onshore contacts to the training. Moreover, they are following up on the learning with individual leadership goals in the appraisal system and the option of repeating or further exploring areas of leadership via webinars after the course.

The individual participants are motivated by the seamless approach in which all initiatives are tied together in the course and made relevant for Top 6 leaders in their positions and daily work context.

Conclusion

In our experience, employees are more likely to apply their new knowledge in the work environment when they feel that their organisation and the climate in the organisation is supportive. When we develop custom training programmes with clients in Green-Jakobsen, we always try to involve the client and the client context in order to design a course with as small a transfer gap as possible. This means knowing the work context, choosing relevant content and building relevant context-based processes around topics. And not least, it means defining and describing ways to sustain development focus after the course. It is not always easy, but it is worth the effort.

https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Simplified-model-of-transfer-of-training_fig1_227629113
Velada, Raquel & Caetano, António & Michel, John & Lyons, Brian & Kavanagh, Michael. (2007). The effects of training design, individual characteristics and work environment on transfer of training. International Journal of Training and Development, 11(4), 282-294. International Journal of Training and Development. 11. 282 - 294. 10.1111/j.1468-2419.2007.00286.x.

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Lisbeth Englund Nissen
Lisbeth Englund Nissen
Consultant
Copenhagen

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