Understanding and being open to change, in order to generate a new outlook or new ways of doing things, is the main aim of learning. Yet a 2016 study by the Harvard Business Review showed that many training sessions serve no real purpose.
“Corporations are victims of the great training robbery. American companies spend enormous amounts of money on employee training and education – $160 billion in the United States and close to $356 billion globally in 2015 alone – but they are not getting a good return on their investment. For the most part, the learning doesn’t lead to better organizational performance, because people soon revert to their old ways of doing things.” (Harvard Business Review, October 2016).
How, then, can we make sure that learners successfully embed learning, i.e. assess their understanding and abilities, along with new behaviours in their work practices?
Indeed, is this actually possible, given that we ascribe our own meaning to learning, derived from a complex mix of our previous experience and the way we perceive ourselves?
It is not possible to predict what people will embed learning in the workplace. In fact, it is better this way because people cannot be programmed like machines! But, as we have already seen, it is possible to facilitate involvement in learning, understanding and sustainability.
The design of the training session plays a pivotal role in the learning transfer, as does the quality of coordination in the broadest sense: communication, explanation, teaching, support, and so on.
However, it is not enough. In order for new behaviours to be properly applied in the workplace, several actions are required:
- at individual level, new schemas* can be produced, so that the information is remembered over the long-term
- at group level, so that the capabilities learned can be transformed into skills in work situations. *there is no action here
Long-term memory: what neuroscience says
“Understanding a piece of information is not enough in order to memorise it,”
To facilitate long-term memorisation, an actual strategy must be implemented.
During the training, we should create meaningful links and reactivate memory traces. Repetition and problem solving by trial and error are indispensable for long-term memorisation.
The idea is to shift from semantic memory (where you remember understanding and meaning) to a procedural memory (where the schema* is completely integrated, so you don’t need to think about it any more). Experts, for example, have procedural memories. Shifting from one type of memory to the other happens gradually as memory traces are consolidated through repetition.
“The relatively low rate of implementing the transfer of knowledge on the ground is, in part, due to repetition disruption at too early a stage, or perhaps even no repetition at all.”
Perfectly integrating a new schema* of action is great. But you can learn how to drive perfectly and then find yourself rather ineffective when you’re in a country where nobody respects the highway code!
We require a systematic approach to ensure that the knowledge from the training is properly embedded. From the outset, the programme needs to integrate the way the transposition may occur in the learner’s ecosystem, which is especially the case when the behavioural aspect of the skills targeted is significant.
- “Engage” – the first phase of the 5E model for training and learning
- “Explain” – the second phase of the 5E model for training and learning
- “Experiment” – the third phase of the 5E model for training and learning
- “Explore” – the fourth phase of the 5E model for training and learning
Active participation from management to identify needs and skills, and support the implementation of skills on the ground, is crucial.
One avenue involves equipping learners, so they question their own management about the implementation of their action plans. This is useful but will not be effective if the organisation of work is not consistent with the skills targeted. The article in the Harvard Business Review gives the example of a manager training session on cross-functional relationships and delegation, while their manager nurtures the silo and asks them to control everything.
As such, those involved in the training – managers and sponsors, corporate universities, training departments, designers, etc. – need an in-depth understanding of the realities of the company and the way in which the skills targeted will actually be implemented on the ground.
- Think about training as a process of change that is part of an environment, not an isolated action.
- Closely link the managerial line with the precise definition of needs in terms of skills and the conditions to be complied with to ensure their fulfilment.
- In training, comply with the conditions needed to ensure memorisation.
- Equip learners to take the initiative in implementing skills in their own work environment.
- Equip management to recognise and encourage learning transfer efforts, and create a favourable environment
* “A schema is the structure of organisation of actions such as they transfer or become standard when repeating this action under similar or analogous situations.” Jean Piaget