Transfer Learning Into Workplace Behavior

Companies in the U.S. spent more than $70 billion on training in 2016. This included all training spending, such as training budgets, technology spending and staff salaries.

Training Mag

But how much of this money is wasted? A great deal—according to Peter L. Mitchell—a specialist in workplace behavioral change. Mitchell asserts there is a very wide gap between training and workplace behavior. This gap is due to several factors:


1. Effective training must allow for self-discovery

Many training courses tell learners what to do—instead of allowing them to discover solutions on their own. The fact is that learning your way through a solution is a lot more effective than being told what to do and how to do it.

Part of the problem is that many training courses are crammed with tons of content. Because of this, instructors don’t have the time to focus on what information is retained and later applied to the job. Instead, instructors should not be preoccupied with information, but rather on how students will perform when they return to work.


2. Skills are best learned in real-life scenarios

Professional male swimmer in a pool with hat and goggles

You can’t teach someone how to swim without actually getting into a pool. The same applies to workplace skills. You can’t solely use the classroom to teach workplace skills. Rather, you must provide the context and environment to develop these skills.

For example, if you are teaching students how to use software, you must provide hands-on labs (also known as hosted labs or virtual training labs) with practical examples to reinforce the skills being taught.


3. Humans forget information quickly

Research on the forgetting curve shows that within one hour, people forget an average of 50% of the information presented; within 24 hours, they forget an average of 70%; and within one week, an average of 90% is lost.

While some individuals may actually remember a little more or a little less than these percentages, a lot of what you teach will be forgotten. And if students can’t remember the material, they can’t apply it in the workplace.

Common recommendations to improve memory retention include learning by actually doing, reducing the amount of information to be stored, repeating important information, providing information in multiple formats, using visual images and other memory aids, providing teacher-prepared handouts prior to class lectures, teaching students to be active readers and sending a short quiz after each lesson to reinforce that day’s curriculum material.


4. A one-size-fits-all approach is ineffective

Learners are all different. And teaching the same information and concepts to groups of students in the same manner is not effective.

We all have a way in which we learn best. Because many of your students will have different preferred learning styles—such as a visual, auditory or kinesthetic—effective teaching is not one-size-fits-all.

So what’s the answer? What are the most effective ways to transfer learning into behavior? Mitchell provides the following suggestions:

  1. Instructors and managers must provide positive reinforcement.
  2. Allow students to provide input regarding the learning content and be sure to include this input in your class.
  3. Use follow-up coaching to retrieve learning.
  4. Be sure to teach skills that apply directly to your student’s workplace/environment.
  5. “Little and often learning,” which involves a mix of short, frequent sessions, spaced apart with downtime between, improves learning.

When training programs align the content with the way in which humans learn, the results will be much better—and more cost effective.

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