Transfer of Learning

Transfer of Learning
By Adam Chan

Text Box: How do you apply this at your workplace?A sudden silent in the midst of a fluent debrief, follows with a sense of awkwardness among the participants. Head tilting low, glancing on the floor, the atmosphere begins to freeze into silence. For facilitators, nothing can be scarier than this. This setting is not uncommon; the occurrence sometimes leaves facilitators baffled.

After a well structured build-up from inception of the activity until the final stage of the activity, i.e. the transfer of learning hits the wall and all prior efforts seems to be flushed down the drain in a blink. It all goes down hill when the facilitator asked, “How do you apply this at your workplace?”

Achieving success seems inevitable after the excellent build-up but yet … it may not be as simple as it is. In fact it could be the crux of any transfer of learning. Responding positively to the mentioned questions mean getting the participants to commit or to solicit a “buy-in” to a change in behavior which is in reality… not easy. More than often, it is affected by some underlying core assumptions that are governing to cognitive “change switch.”

The following sections will provide some principles and insights to augment our consistency in executing transfer of learning as well as recognizing those invisible road blocks.

Fixation
Fixation is common; it creates mind blocks that trap facilitators, it projects situations that are impossible to overcome in their minds. For example, you heard from some experience facilitators said this; “good facilitator will be able to achieve transfer of learning”. Our interpretation to this statement subconsciously decides how we will act when doing transfer of learning.

When we think we are, we become …..

Even as facilitators, we are not immune to unwarranted external influences. Things we heard about what makes good facilitation and what don’t are most common. These external influences can transform into fixations unobtrusively over time. Below are some common ones but there are more.

- Too many program objectives, too little time
- Facilitators are solely responsible for the transfer of learning
- Transfer of learning is a well grounded method, it is to be adhered religiously
- Facilitators must provide critical insights to help solve the participants’ issues
- Transfer of learning is the only indicator for program success
- If my fellow facilitators are doing it, it must be the right way
- Transfer of learning is only done at the end

What matters here is to recognize it is not a mandate to achieve transfer of learning for every activity. Over arousal in debrief kills the participants’ responsiveness to any further debrief questions. There is a saying, “death by debrief …” Discerning facilitators can always detect this tipping point coming thus avoiding this downwards turning point.

Limited Knowledge
Anyone who aspires to become an exemplary facilitator cannot avoid the growing pains of feeling inadequate, especially in terms of knowledge and experiences. The bright side to the growing pains is with each painful experience comes a layer of knowledge and experience gained.

There is no substitution to gaining experiences over time. Knowledge can be acquired easily through reading a book. Courses locally are never lacking, attending some to gain more knowledge is again highly accessible. Not withstanding the abundance of easily accessible knowledge, the basis to an effective facilitation session is in its application of knowledge and experiences.

Liberation
Any facilitator who is carrying some of the mentioned fixations, liberating the mind would be the first wise thing to do. Let’s switch the way we perceive those fixations mentioned previously. By re-phrasing the fixations into liberating statements can help set you free from it.

Fixation

Liberation

Too many program objectives, too little time Less is more, focus on the objectives that matter
Facilitators are solely responsible for the transfer of learning Transfer of learning is a shared responsibility
Transfer of learning is a well grounded method, it is to be adhered religiously There are no 10 commandments to transfer of learning, only general principles
Facilitators must provide critical insights to help solve the participants’ issues Facilitators are not problem-solvers but process experts
Transfer of learning is the only indicator for program success There are more indicators that make up a success program than just transfer of learning
If my fellow facilitators are doing it, it must be the right way They may be doing it, but not in a fixated way
Transfer of learning is only done at the end Transfer of learning takes place anytime

General Principles
As the program is drawing near to the point of transfer of learning, you may wish to use the following general principles to help you decide what you would do.

  • Use lead-in e.g. tell a story
  • Illuminate the benefits of learning transfer before the transfer takes place
  • Revisit the relevant expectations set by the participants
  • Learning transfer should not execute at the start of the debrief
  • Capture any opportunities that imply permission to make the learning transfer

Application – Specific Junctions and Questions
When the activity has reached the point of learning transfer, the critical success factor lies in the questions used by the facilitator. A common pitfall is asking general questions instead of specific questions. After the activity, it is usual to assume the participants can recall the interesting incidents however this may not be true. We humans have the ability to selectively discern the huge amount of information bombarding us. As long as the participants’ minds are not primed to observe learning junctions during the activities, unlikely they will be able to response actively during debrief. This does not imply that general questions cannot be used rather to be wise in its applications.

As facilitators, we should familiar in identifying the critical learning junctions of the activities we are conducting. E.g. discovering the essence of yellow balls in trolley is one such critical learning junction. To help them in making connections between learning junctions to learning perspectives, facilitators should ask specific questions. Here are some examples,

  • For Trolley; why did your team hesitate to make contact with yellow balls? What are some yellow balls at work? With regards to practices, procedures and policies.
  • For Helium Hula; what are the reasons for keeping the hoop on the index fingers? What are some processes at work that are fixated?
  • For Diamond Maze construction; what are your reactions toward the mid-point switch? How do you response to “work switches”?
  • For Warp Speed; from circular formation to staggered straight line formation, do you call it innovation? What can innovation do for you at work?

The above examples are not exhaustive; the point is asking specific questions that point to those learning junctions. This deliberate effort is likely to augment the transfer of learning when the participants are responsive to the questions.

In conclusion, the myth learning transfer can be tied to personal fixated notions about how it ought to be carried out. With fixations, our potential to discern emerging learning opportunities during the session will be limited. By trying too hard to stick to the “rules” will inadvertently kill the ability to sense and participants’ responses as well. After all, facilitation in our line or work is about sensing the right moments amid the dynamism and volatility in any given session where facilitation is used as the communication vehicle.