At the beginning of the global pandemic of 2020, a lot of training was either cancelled, postponed or (in most cases) moved online. While the efforts to keep learning moving along should be applauded, companies have come to recognize that throwing all classroom training online isn’t a sustainable strategy, unless learning transfer is embedded in training programs.
Learning transfer is an essential aspect of a successful learning program, because it increases the likelihood that employees will apply learning in the workplace. However, in the rush to switch to the virtual classroom, transfer efforts have lagged — which is understandable in an environment where training divisions and practitioners were just trying to keep the industry going.
Now that learning has successfully shifted to the virtual environment, however, it’s time to move forward and make your learning programs even better. Here are three suggestions to improve learning transfer in the virtual environment:
- Design programs around blended learning concepts.
- Build learning transfer into your programs.
- Measure learning application in the workplace.
How to Create Blended Learning for the New Work Environment
Virtual meeting platforms have been great for hosting online learning sessions, but we will probably need to rethink the concept of doing everything virtually once it’s clear how and where people will work in the future. Try thinking about making learning programs along these four lines:
Use large groups for initiatives like program kick-offs with the C-suite or significant touchstone sessions. Gathering large groups together will be rare, must happen safely and should have a big impact on the rest of the program. The main point is to ensure that learners recognize the event as a special opportunity to meet each other, feel highly motivated and acquire the impetus to complete the whole program.
Use small groups for peer learning or collaborative learning — in other words, learning together to achieve a shared outcome. These sessions can occur with remote teams and in small face-to-face groups when it’s safe. Bringing people together to work in teams has several benefits, but the main goals here are to complete group tasks, share ideas in real time and move forward at the same pace throughout the program.
Remote and digital learning shine when it comes to training individuals. Use asynchronous learning for most training points along the program, especially knowledge training, as long as it’s backed up with feedback or coaching points using existing channels and software.
In many situations, your programs will combine several elements to capitalize on the strength of each. (Note, however, that not all learning programs require multiple elements.) The idea of blended learning has been around for a long time, but technology now makes it practical to achieve at scale. To be successful, blended learning designs should consider business goals, learning and content type, work locations, and access to determine the right blend.
Building Learning Transfer Into Your Programs
Whichever blend of training is good for your company, clients or programs, there is no guarantee that participants will use it, unless you embed learning transfer. After all, learning isn’t the goal of training — changing behaviors and applying knowledge are. Here are some tips on how to embed learning transfer into your training programs (inspired by Ina Weinbauer-Heidel’s book “What Makes Training Really Work”):
Firstly, use a blend of learning to make sure that the most appropriate type of training occurs at the right time. Blended programs work best using spacing. For example, consider putting at least two weeks between big events, such as virtual sessions, and fill the gaps with small group or individual activities that reinforce the learning.
Secondly, design the reinforcing activities you use to fill the gaps to help learners start applying what they learn immediately. In other words, they should be applying learning during the program, not just at the end. One tip is to gather a lot of examples of application from previous cohorts and share them throughout the program to give people a sense of “I can and will do this.”
Plan to overcome application obstacles, and design solutions that limit the their impact. For example, you might devise a system to aid recall of information that is easy to forget, dense or complicated. Create support for managers so that they can give adequate feedback in skills practice sessions. Think of ways to change entrenched mindsets so that people feel liberated to try new ideas and methods.
Finally, build an ecosystem of transfer support by involving managers and colleagues. One inexpensive way to do so is to have a bag of tricks that you can add to any program to create momentum. Ideas include:
- Program support videos for managers.
- Checklists for before and after meetings between managers and employees.
- Instructions on how to give feedback that doesn’t contradict program content.
- Presentations to senior managers of real work results derived from participation in a training program.
Measuring Application of Training in the Workplace
Application of training should lead to observable results. Those results will vary according to the business needs connected to each program you design, but to be able to prove the results are valid, you’ll need strong evaluation strategies, as Robert O. Brinkerhoff writes in his book “Telling Training’s Story.”
One effective evaluation strategy is to decide as you design your program how to monitor application during the rollout. The advantage of doing it then instead of as a “post-mortem,” when the program has finished, is that you can tweak the program to improve results as you go.
Firstly, look for people who are doing well at applying the skills and knowledge they are learning from your training program. Gather information about the success they are having, celebrate it, and share their best practices with other members of the cohort and their managers. A great way to create and share these “impact profiles” is through a process called the success case method (as described in Brinkerhoff’s book).
At the same time, look for people who are struggling to apply the training content. Each training program will have people who fall into this category through no fault of their own; identify the obstacles they face, and help them overcome them. Supporting these learners is especially important in virtual learning, since there are so many differences in environment, mentality, routines and support systems compared to what people are used to.
Finally, once the training program is complete, you should have better results, knowledge of where they came from, proof the program was successful and specific points to improve the next round. The main point to remember here is that you should use evaluation to achieve better results immediately and in the future. This practical approach should deliver better application and results than an academic-style review.
To start making your virtual learning programs generate results, remember to:
- Plan for a blended learning approach to suit your content and audience.
- Embed learning transfer activities into the program to make sure employees apply their learning.
- Measure successes and failures throughout the rollout to tweak content and aim for success.