Commercial Director TSW
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The ‘secret sauce’ recipe for better learning transfer

Most learning initiatives fail not because of the course content or a lack of employee engagement, but because they’re not approached strategically. Here are the two ‘secret sauce’ ingredients you need to spice up return on training investment.

12th Mar 2020
Commercial Director TSW
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You need a learning intervention. All you need to do is get a great provider on board, give them the brief and hey presto, right?

The training design is on-point, the delivery engaging and the feedback is A* – you're confident it was the right course and a good investment.

A month later and nothing has changed in the workplace, everyone is behaving in the same way and your objectives haven’t been met. What went wrong? You're missing the ‘secret sauce’.

If you aren’t thinking about 70:20:10 and LTSI in your learning strategy, it's unlikely that learning will survive the transfer into work or make a sustainable impact on business success.

In learning and development, the most common ‘problem’ is learning transfer, when learning fails to have the desired effect and objectives aren't met. It's usually a symptom of poor organisational design and a failure to create a robust transfer climate. The ‘secret sauce’ recipe holds the ingredients for starting to resolve the transfer problem.

A recipe for training success

In striving to build a strong and effective bridge between learning and business impact, ask yourself: how is learning and its transfer supported internally? The answer to this question will form the base of your training ROI secret sauce.

If you aren’t achieving your desired ROI, ask yourself:

  1. Do we understand and apply the 70:20:10 principles in our approach to learning and development?
  2. Do we understand how the learning transfer system inventory (LTSI) applies in our business?

If you aren’t thinking about 70:20:10 and LTSI in your learning strategy, it's unlikely that learning will survive the transfer into work or make a sustainable impact on business success.

Secret sauce ingredient one: The 70:20:10 ratio

The 70:20:10 model for learning and development is a commonly used ratio within the training profession that describes the optimal sources of learning for successful managers.

Learners get 70% of their knowledge from job-related experiences, 20% from interactions with others, and 10% from formal educational events. Some argue that the ratio changes according to the type of business it is and its requirements.

Structured learning, formal training courses and programmes, whether accounting for 10%, 15%, 20% or somewhere in between, only play a small part in the big picture of developing people to be better, higher-performing, better to work with, or whatever it is we need them to be.

Research suggests that learning fails to transfer, in most cases, because there is an inadequate support climate, rather than there being a failure in the learning intervention itself.

The 70:20:10 ratio should create a synergy between learning and working so they are seamless and no longer standalone. When you decide to invest in learning and development for your people, think about what you’re doing in your organisation to:

  • Foster learning and development through day-to-day tasks, challenges and practice (70%).
  • Facilitate learning and development with and through others from coaching and mentoring, people exploiting their networks and other collaborative and co-operative activity (20%).

If you tackle them strategically, you’ll create an environment where learning and development happen every day and create a learning culture that stands the test of time.

Integrate formal learning events with the workplace – as part of the formal learning; find ways to get people working with others (20%) to implement their knowledge through experience, experiment and reflection (70%).

The impact of this integrated learning environment will be a significant improvement on the ROI received from formal training and informal learning interventions.

That leaves the 10% down to finding the right supplier (or delivering internally, of course) and holding them to account on their part of the deal.

A perfect scenario is a partnership approach, where your provider becomes a trusted advisor that works with you to implement a ‘congruous’ 70:20:10 strategy.

Secret sauce ingredient two: learning transfer system inventory (LTSI)

‘Learning transfer’ refers to the degree to which one applies learning on the job, preferably for the benefit of the organisation and its stakeholders. It is learning transfer that creates the return on investment we all seek. Worryingly, according to a survey of Human Resource Development (HRD) professionals, only 34% of trainees apply their learning in the workplace one year following a training intervention.

Research suggests that learning fails to transfer, in most cases, because there is an inadequate support climate, rather than there being a failure in the learning intervention itself.

If we don’t develop a broader understanding of what it takes to create sustainable change in attitudes and behaviours, the learning we are all ‘paying’ for is lost. 

In 2000, a group of researchers led by Elwood Holton published the Learning Transfer System Inventory (LTSI), which considered several factors that act as inhibitors or catalysts for the transfer of learning.

The first step to improving learning and learning transfer outcomes is to use the LTSI as a diagnostic tool, to assess the variables that are affecting learning transfer in your organisation. It can also be used to survey participants at appropriate times.

L&D professionals can use the factors as leverage points, where they can deploy strategies to improve learning, transfer and ROI.

There are 16 factors identified and measured in the LTSI that can have an impact on transfer, 11 that are factors affecting the specific learning intervention and a further five that affect training within the organisation in general. They include:

  1. Learner readiness – the extent to which respondents are prepared to enter and participate in training.
  2. Motivation to transfer – participants’ desire to apply the knowledge and skills mastered in training on the job.
  3. Positive personal outcomes – whether participants feel that application of training on the job will lead to positive outcomes (i.e. rewards).
  4. Negative personal outcomes – whether participants believe that not applying learning will lead to negative outcomes.
  5. Personal capacity for transfer – the extent to which participants feel they have the ability, time, energy and mental space to make changes required to transfer learning.
  6. Peer support – extent to which peers reinforce and support learning on the job.
  7. Supervisor support – extent to which participants feel their supervisors offer support and reinforcement of learning once back on the job.
  8. Supervisor sanctions – the perceived extent to which supervisors impose sanctions when participants apply newly learned skills on the job.
  9. Perceived content validity – the participants’ judgement of the total training content in terms of how accurately it reflects job requirements.
  10. Transfer design – extent to which participants perceive the training is designed to support them in applying learning on the job.
  11. Opportunity to use – degree to which participants feel they are given resources and tasks on the job that enable them to use their learning.

These five general factors aim to gauge the extent to which the LTSI respondents felt about training and their organisation in general.

  1. Transfer effort performance expectations – belief of a trainee that the effort devoted to transferring learning will result in improved job performance.
  2. Performance outcomes expectations – expectation that changes in job performance will lead to valued outcomes.
  3. Openness to change – extent to which participants believe that implementing learning and change is encouraged or discouraged by the culture of the organisation/group.
  4. Performance self-efficacy – the trainee’s belief that they have the capacity/ability to change their performance at will.
  5. Performance coaching – formal and informal indicators, in the form of feedback, from an organisation about an employee’s job performance following learning.

By pragmatically discussing these 16 ‘leverage points’ and considering what you could do better, you are preparing your business to provide a supportive learning culture that will result in improved results and business impact.  

Through an internet search, you will find more information on each of the areas along with practical tips for improving organisation design and transfer climate.

If we don’t develop a broader understanding of what it takes to create sustainable change in attitudes and behaviours, the learning we are all ‘paying’ for is lost. Next time you consider a new learning intervention, bring out the learning and development secret sauce and ask:

  • How can we apply the 70:20:10 theory to create a seamless learning experience?
  • Have we taken steps to eliminate as many learning transfer barriers as we can using the learning transfer system inventory?

Better still, don’t wait for a training need to emerge – take this secret sauce recipe to the board table and start talking learning strategy and culture. Embed these principles in your culture and the results will follow.

Interested in this topic? Read How L&D can solve the training ROI problem.

Replies (2)

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By jayne-burke
15th Mar 2020 16:37

An interesting and extremely practical guide to learning transfer success by Matthew Channell. For me, the 70% (through day to day learning) is about raising consciousness ie realising that something has been learned rather than a more passive sense of achievement. Secondly, if a coaching approach has been adopted, that in itself can help to transform the passive achievement into conscious learning. And finally, the collaborative nature of a shared learning experience which further reinforces the learning.
I really liked Matthew's summary of the LTSI; it looks a lot but I liked his suggestion of how this could help to scope and design an internal learning strategy which would be a really robust piece of work. Additionally, working with a well regarded learning partner will also strongly support the scoping, design and delivery of learning programmes which then perfectly match the learning strategy. My experience of commissioning and co-designing learning programmes with TSW was exactly that, with a meticulous focus on delivering the exact required outcome - and ultimately being able to evaluate the success of the programme as well as the ROI.

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By Mikeltsglobal
17th Mar 2020 13:34

Thank you for your comments on the LTSI.
It is one of the best researched, and validated tools which measures the impact of a learning intervention and provides a ROI calculation. We have been working with Ed. in Europe for over seven years.
At LTSGlobal.com we have been developing the research on learning transfer. There are three areas of focus when looking at transfer. All of which are supported by our systems. Firstly, the organisation and its support for change is analysed by using the TransferLogix process. Secondly, the learning intervention, (the definition of behaviours, the design and delivery of the learning programme) which the LTSI ensures that all the 16 enablers to learning transfer are switched on. Finally, and the most significant but least researched, the nine Personal Characteristics, the learners motivation and capability to transfer. The latter being significant because ultimately the learner decides whether or not they apply their learning. Our Empowered Achiever App provides focus for the individual learner
The LTSI gives an indication of the learning intervention. The 16 enablers to learning transfer highlight whether they are accelerating the application. The LTSI provides data based evidence on which of the indicators requires attention. Once the focus of the problem has been identified we have a web based system, Transferlogix (TLX), which enables an organisation to establish integrated solutions. All our systems engage, involve and support all the stakeholders in the learning process.
Finally, with coaches in the workplace and the introduction of open learning the learner has much more responsibility to manage their learning. Our App, the Empowered Achiever, empowers the individual to manage and drive the application of their learning. Since only 37% (Simpson 2016)of open learning programmes are successful, not because of content but the inability of the learner to manage their learning,we have provided a structure to enable a learning conversation to occur. The learning conversation can be a dialogue within the learner or between the learner and those supporting. Coaching is useful to support transfer but the focus the Empowered Achiever (https://www.empowered-achiever.com/) provides, to a learning dialogue, is powerful in ensuring learning is applied.

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