A learning and development department cannot create and demonstrate value unless the learners who participate in learning interventions put what they learn into action and achieve results.
Ideally, learners should be able to apply the skills and knowledge as part of a continuous improvement process. If these actions and their results are captured in a systematic way, learning departments can create evidence of learning’s value to the organization, and they can enhance the transfer of knowledge while facilitating continuous improvement.
Many learning functions do not take into account how individuals will apply what they learn, and therefore don’t provide opportunities for the learners to consider and document how they intend to apply — or how they have applied — what they learn. It is a missed opportunity not to establish a link between the learning objectives, actions taken and results. Documenting this link could demonstrate learning’s value in ways that executives can understand and appreciate. And ultimately, that understanding and appreciation will be reflected in learning budget allocations.
Take virtual classrooms, for instance. Organizations using these and other delivery platforms need evidence of value today more than ever. To facilitate virtual learning transfer, leaders must first consider how learners will apply newly acquired knowledge and skills. Armed with this knowledge, learners can be empowered to document how they will apply what they have learned through a preformatted electronic action plan, adapted to their needs and used during the virtual classroom.
If we use the broad definition of evaluation — established in 1994 by the Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation — as “the systematic assessment of the worth or merit of an object,” we can conclude that the person best suited to evaluate a learning intervention is the individual learner, but only after they have had the chance to put into practice what they have learned.
Ideally, we want learners to achieve productive transfer as opposed to reproductive transfer when they are back in their jobs. Researchers refer to the simple application of knowledge to a novel task as “reproductive transfer.” When there is adaptation, mutation and enhancement, it is referred to as “productive transfer.”
Once individuals apply what they have learned, we need to document their results. How? Learners must interact with their action plans. For example, individuals who learned a new engagement strategy can document the results they achieve after they apply the strategy to their existing client base.
This kind of documentation should be an ongoing process. Documenting the results reinforces the continuous learning process required to achieve productive knowledge and skill transfer, and it accumulates evidence of the value of the virtual classroom or other learning interventions.
In the virtual classroom, it all starts when the learner is provided with an opportunity to document how they intend to apply what they have learned in an electronic action plan, designed to consider their needs as well as business needs. In this way, we increase the chances that productive learning transfer will occur. Once the learners apply a skill and make it public, this creates an internal and external pressure to actually follow through. The internal pressure is to remain consistent with the individual’s self-image. The external pressure is often a desire to show others that they are consistent and will follow through on their commitments.
Because it is ultimately the employees’ outputs that create value for an organization their actions and results need to be captured to evaluate the worth and merit of the virtual classroom investment. Documenting what individuals are able to do with the knowledge imparted and what results they achieve can establish evidence of learning value.
When we focus on enabling transfer by understanding how our learners will apply what they have learned and on designing ways to document how they will apply new skills and knowledge and the results they obtain, we create the right conditions for real and lasting productive transfer to occur.
Michael J. Aumann is founder and chief learning architect for Facilitador. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.
All contributors to Perspectives are current students or alumni of the PennCLO Program, the University of Pennsylvania’s doctoral program for senior-level talent and learning executives.Filed under: Learning DeliveryTagged with: evaluation, objectives, outcomes