Introduction to Learning and Transfer of Training Theories

Introduction to Learning and Transfer of Training Theories

Learning Theories give us a glimpse into understanding how people learn. This week we will focus on theories that help TD practitioners facilitate learning in the classroom. Applying learning theory is one of the skills necessary for success in the Instructional Design area of expertise in the ATD Competency Model that we focused on in Week 1 of the class. If you click on the site http://www.instructionaldesign.org/ , you will find a link to learning theories prominently displayed.

Using learning theory knowledge in the design and delivery of training will aid participants in the transfer of learning back to the job. We will focus on that aspect of learning theory next week when we discuss design and delivery of training. Our focus this week will be on the learning theory ingredients that are necessary for the transfer of learning from the classroom to the job to take place. We will begin the journey with a review of the learning theories.

Learning Theories:

The ‘Teaching Guide for GSIs’ article on Learning Theories gives us an overview of most of the major learning theories that trainers use in designing training. For a more comprehensive explanation of the theory, please review the article.

Below are some examples of how learning theories impact the development of training.

Behaviorist Theory assumes that the learner is passive and their behavior can be shaped through positive or negative reinforcement in the training. In this type of training, the trainer identifies the benefits of the training to the individual. Some of these benefits might include increased work competency and efficiency, safety, or rewards like promotion or salary increases. During the training, the trainer focuses on reinforcing positive behaviors through memorization and testing assignments. Assignment feedback that both focuses on and reinforces the behavior is an integral part of this theory.

Cognitivist Theory, or human information processing theory, assumes that new information can be transformed in a particular way during training which will enable trainees to store it in their memory. Trainers use the learner’s experience as a basis for the construction of new knowledge. During training, the trainer connects the new material to the trainee’s experience and conducts discussions and review exercises where the trainee has an opportunity to explain the new material in relationship to what the trainee already knows.

Social Learning Theory (SLT). Another influential theory in adult as well as childhood education is social learning theory. This theory assumes that behavior is learned from the environment through observation. Hence, trainers should use or serve as positive models in the classroom to help people learn. Many trainers use ‘behavior modeling’ in the classroom. Behavior modeling includes a) showing the trainee how to do something, b) allowing the trainee to ask questions, c) letting the trainee do it, d) and giving the trainee feedback. This process can be used in several types of training from on-the-job (OJT) training to leadership training. In OJT training, the trainer can model the behavior in a one-on-one situation. In leadership training, the trainee can watch a positive scenario on a video and then ‘role play’ it in small groups – – and receive feedback.

Adult Learning Theory. In the readings this week is an article about Malcom Knowles. Knowles spent a lifetime studying how adults learn. He was convinced that adults learned differently than children. He saw adults as more self-directed, more experienced, more problem oriented, and more application oriented than children. As a professor and researcher at Boston University and North Carolina State between 1959 and

1979, Knowles wrote about a difference between what he referred to as pedagogy, or the practice of teaching children, and andragogy, or the practice of teaching adults. The distinction Knowles was trying to make is that adults needed a more learner-centered approach to learning. Having a more learner centered approach to learning could change the roles of the teacher and the student. The teacher could become more of a participative facilitator of learning rather than a lecturer. (https://www.td.org/Publications/Newsletters/Links/2009/11/The-Fundamentals-of-Adult-Learning .

The impact that Knowles had on training profession was evident when he received an ATD (formerly ASTD) Award for Distinguished Contribution to Workplace Learning and Performance.

The next question becomes how have trainers adapted Knowles’ work over the years. Here are some adaptions of Knowles that are driving the learning in this class.

• Adult learners want to know why they are attending the training. • Adult learners want to know practical information that helps them on the job – – and they want to use the

information immediately. • Adult learners are self-directed, active learners with a need to participate in their learning. They like to

solve problems and ‘discover’ knowledge. • Adult learners are highly experienced with a lot of knowledge to contribute. Their input into discussions

is valuable to the overall learning of the group. • Adult learners want a learning environment that is respectful and does not attack their self-esteem.

Here is an example of how OSHA trainers have applied adult learning theory to their train-the-trainer program: https://www.osha.gov/dte/grant_materials/fy11/sh-22240-11/HowAdultsLearn.pdf

Transfer of Learning:

The transfer of training is an integral part of the training design process. It is discussed during the TNA (Training Needs Analysis). It is part of the development, design, and implementation of the training. It should be included in the evaluation as part of assessing behavior change or impact on the organization.

The transfer of training is simply applying what is learned in the training effectively and consistently back on the job. According to the Grossman and Salas article on transfer of training (see Week 4 readings), there are three factors that impact the transfer of training: trainee characteristics, training design, and work environment.

1. Trainee characteristics include the cognitive ability and motivation of the trainee to learn. For training to transfer from a trainee’s perspective, the training must be useful and add to the trainee’s knowledge. Also, we learned from the learning theories that learning must relate to prior experience (cognitive theory) or be practical (adult learning theory) for adults to ‘transfer’ it to their daily lives. This is why simulation is a popular training methodology. We will discuss how design and methods impact retention and transfer of learning in the coming weeks.

Actions trainers should take that will aid trainee’s understanding and transfer of the training:

◦ Ensure that manager and trainer explained to the employee the importance of the training and how it relates to both the work unit’s and individual’s goals and objectives.

◦ Help the employee understand how the training will fit their development plan.

2. Training design includes creating a learning environment that shows trainees clearly defined acceptable behavior models, relates to employee’s past experience, and gives the trainees opportunities to practice new behaviors. These elements of design will help the trainee transfer the knowledge back to the work environment. Training design and delivery will be covered in greater depth in the next unit.

Actions trainers should take that will aid in the transfer of learning as they design the training:

◦ Develop learning activities that mirror and link to the work environment. ◦ Use the same tools and technology in the training that trainees use in the work environment. ◦ Design training that is relevant and meaningful to the trainee. ◦ Align training to learning styles and adult education theories. ◦ Give trainees opportunities to practice and receive feedback during the training. ◦ Develop supporting resources for trainee to use after the training.

3. Work environment is the climate for transfer and includes management support, organization’s culture, and the performance management system. The work environment must be supportive in order for training transfer for occur.

Actions trainers should take to ensure training is transferred back to the work environment:

◦ Work with managers to determine how soon the trainees will be given the opportunity to use new knowledge and skills back on the job. Like in real life, time can impact memory.

◦ Work with managers to help employees develop specific objectives that support the newly learned knowledge.

◦ Work with managers to determine how the new knowledge and skills will be reinforced once the trainees return to the job.

In summary, TD practitioners use elements from several learning theories to design training. Training methods such as behavior modeling, role playing, on-the- job (OJT), scenarios, and case studies all derive from the various learning theories that e have discussed this week. If the trainer can construct a learning environment that is similar to the work environment and has relevant and meaningful content the learning transfer to the job will be easier. Also, if the organization’s leadership is involved, supportive, and reinforces the training back on the job, the training will be more successful than if these ingredients are not present. Being mindful of these theories and how training transfers back to the job, will help us in our next unit on the design and delivery of training.


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