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DCE Magazine

How Learning Transfer Principles Boost the Bottom Line

Summer 2020

Get improved return on investment from your organization’s corporate education programs.

So you’re managing a far-reaching training program for about 2,600 employees worldwide and the new corporate leaders ask for an evaluation of the knowledge transfer process. What exactly are the employees learning? And are they putting their new skills to effective use on the job?

More than anything, the leaders of Thermo Fisher Scientific wanted to know if they were getting a suitable ROI on the considerable time and money spent on the training courses.

Heather VirdoHeather Virdo, leader of Thermo Fisher’s Marketing University, was tasked with providing data on the courses, specifically those administered by UC Irvine Corporate Training. The global corporation has been working with UCI for over a decade, and new management wanted a clear vision of the type of return they, and their employees, were getting.

“We had come under the umbrella of Thermo Fisher Scientific and the leaders are very metrics-driven,” Virdo said “We used specific, targeted feedback from program participants to assess what it is they learned, how much they learned, and how that knowledge was being put to use on the job. We contracted a company called Metrics that Matter to conduct our ongoing assessments.”

Participants were given 10 questions prior to each training course to assess their current knowledge of the subject and other factors. Then they were given 10 questions ranking their progress in a post-course assessment. It was an effective way to measure the courses’ learning transfer, or knowledge transfer.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but the results exceeded our goal,” Virdo said. “Going by the metric we used, we were hoping for a 15% rating during the first year and we got 22%. In early 2019, it was measured up to 30%, increasing to 40.4% toward the end of the year. And in course satisfaction ratings, our employees gave an average six out of seven. We’d like a seven, but I don’t think that’s possible.”

The way learning transfer works, it’s like a positive loop effect, she said. Educators and organizations get feedback on what employees are learning, how they’re applying it, and in turn use that information to fine-tune their training programs for better results.

“For example, we share our data and work directly with UCI instructors to target the needs of our employees,” Virdo said.

Not surprisingly, the leaders of Thermo Fisher Scientific were very pleased with the results. “We are so fortunate to continue to receive ongoing leadership commitment and funding for a program like this. We utilize our needs assessment data, plus strategic business direction from our leaders, to build specific courses.”

The science of knowledge transfer

Learning transfer is an especially effective tool for human resource professionals looking for the most effective content for their training programs – and corporations invest heavily to get the best ROI.

Mike SmithU.S. organizations spend over $125 billion on employee training every year, but estimates of ROI have been on the low side, said Mike Smith, Director at Learning Transfer Solutions Global as well as a designer and instructor for UCI’s Introduction to Learning Transfer MOOC.

“Despite the massive investment, survey data suggest the return on investment has been low,” he said. “Only 50% of training investments result in organizational or individual improvements, and actual wastage from the investment in training is $107 billion dollars in 2012 values.”

As a result, a focus on learning transfer has accelerated in recent years as organizations began researching ways to craft their programs to be more effective. To that end, Smith has dedicated himself to teaching the principles of learning transfer, with the final goal of behavioral change and improved performance, the heart of the learning transfer process, Smith said.

“The motivation to learn and transfer implies not only the capability to understand, but also to apply the learning,” he added. “Learning theory assumes a ladder of change, from reactions to an event, through to learning, then making effective decisions. This results in behavioral changes, with the commensurate impact on performance and results.”

Boosting the ROI

Carolyn DareA longtime leadership instructor and speaker, Smith was inspired, after a cancer diagnosis, to find out if his work had made a difference. So he began a journey to discover the most efficient and accurate methods to measure and quantify learning transfer, a journey that led him to create his innovative MOOC for UCI, along with co-creator Carolyn Dare, Director at Empowered Achiever Ltd/3L Life Long Learning.

The Introduction to Learning Transfer MOOC, available through a partnership with Coursera, provides a basic understanding of the issues around learning transfer for the individual learner and the aspirant Human Resource development practitioner,” Smith said. “It’s a course that’s self-guided by the individual and addresses the 16 key factors of the Learning Transfer System Inventory (LTSI).”

The first module offers an overview of the fundamental concepts, issues and definitions behind the principles of learning transfer. The second module provides a deeper dive into the LTSI factors, categorized under three headings: capability, motivation, and work environment. It offers a blueprint for identifying learning transfer issues that need to be addressed in each category.

An Empowered Achiever app, available for download, is designed to assist the learner with the ability to have an internal, self-directed conversation assisted by a suite of open learning materials and a Personal Development Plan, Smith said.

The overall goal is to not only gauge how a training program is accelerating or decelerating the learning process, but also offer effective solutions. That’s the idea behind what Smith calls the 4Ds: Define, Design, Deliver and Drive, a web-based approach to rectifying any of the issues identified in the LTSI.

“The 4Ds enable organizations to focus on the critical success factors in the learning process,” Smith said. “It a system that’s designed to rectify and prove that learning is being transferred throughout the process of implementing a learning intervention investment. We can provide data-based evidence of the value through a ROI calculation.”

Smith is working on a second, more advanced MOOC – The Role of Strategic Human Resource Development – designed to understand where learning fits into the role of HR professionals.

The result is a win-win-win for learners as well as the instructors and organizations footing the bill.

“A combination of these approaches enables teachers to not only focus on their content but on the group’s and individual’s application of the content,” Smith said. “It also provides the HR department with evidence-based data to show their contribution to the business, and a complete system which ensures that every learning intervention is having impact and adding value.”

Learn more about the Introduction to Learning Transfer course.