Learning transfer made easy… Learning in real time, in your everyday environment

Martina Weinberger on September 20, 2015

A joint post by Charles Kingsmill and Martina Weinberger

What happens on tour sometimes stays on tour. Alas.

As trainers and facilitators, we are often asked about the problem of learning transfer. Even if participants want to attend a programme, even if they can find the time to attend, even if they can justify leaving their desks, even if they can keep colleagues and clients at bay… and even if the programme is excellent…

… there is always the problem of how to take the learning back to the workplace.

Of course, we anticipate this in the design of programmes. We discuss real issues and rehearse real situations. We have personal planning sessions. We follow up with coaching and conference calls, we ask participants to write letters to themselves, as a way of creating continuity between programme and office…

But there is little doubt that something is lost. The mood and tone of a workshop is very different from that of busy offices.  How many ideas and commitments never re-surface because the office context is so different?  Or because colleagues just have not shared the same experience on a programme?

Increasingly, organisations are moving to regular shorter on-site training programmes. These have two obvious advantages. One is cost. The other is proximity to the desk.

These advantages aren’t perhaps as great as they first seem. Firstly, the largest element of cost for professional services firms is the lost chargeable hours opportunity. Secondly, even proximity has its limits. Studies demonstrate that the very act of walking from one room into another can lead people to forget why they did so in the first place.

And of course, you lose the immersive power of a longer offsite programme. The intensity is far lower for a 90 minute session on the next floor down.

So why not try something completely different?

Breakfast for Champions.

Here’s a radical proposition: Let us move training all the way to the desk.  let us find a new and different way of helping individuals and teams to practise and learn.

As an example, a team might use a three-day intervention in their office, on a theme nominated by themselves. Rather than taking participants out of their context, away from their team, with the associated expense and disruption to their work, how about bringing learning and development right into their workplace and their work? Rather than doing real-plays with actors, why not learn by doing the real thing, in real time?

Here’s how it could work:

  • At the start of the first working day, we begin with a ‘breakfast for champions’. Where a  number of very important messages are covered.
  • The senior sponsor, the team leader, introduces the theme. It might be delegation, for example, or handling difficult Clients, or anything around the topic of working better as a team.
  • Two experienced facilitators explain how the programme will work.
  • They host a brief discussion on the theme and elicit some top tips, perhaps adding a couple of their own.
  • Then they explore what challenges the members of the team are facing and how they might be able to practise some ideas over the following three days.
  • All the above should take no more than two-three hours.
  • Then it’s business as usual, except that the facilitators “shadow” the members of the team. Experience shows that shadows get ‘forgotten’ very quickly.
  • Wherever possible, the facilitators hold debrief sessions, with speed-feedback, for individuals, pairs or small groups, whatever is appropriate.
  • During the working days, the facilitators also offer a series of short skill training sessions in the background. In most companies, this can be done using existing L&D materials.
  • Within that framework, the facilitators would also  be ‘on call’ for any members of the team who want coaching and advice in the moment.
  • Towards the end of the three days, the facilitators offer final debriefs, and help the participants to agree next steps, as a team and individually.

Danger: we might learn something.

The point of this approach is to encourage real time learning and reflection. It would be important to set a serious and encouraging tone. The senior sponsor and/or the facilitators need to emphasise some specific messages.

  • “You are already good, and the idea is to help you become better still.”
  • “Because today’s theme is X, it’s okay for everyone to acknowledge that they could be better at X. Whether you’re junior or senior, whether you’re a natural or whether you struggle, we all have something we can learn. For these three days, we don’t have to be embarrassed about finding X tough.”
  • “We can all learn from one another. That includes learning from those who are more junior and teaching those who are more senior. We’re looking to help share good ideas around, and that includes down and up the organisation.”
  • “Small changes can make a big difference, so you don’t have to put your work on hold. Just be yourselves and trust that easy-to-implement ideas will emerge.”

Pilot’s Licence.

The participants won’t have experienced a programme like this before. As so often in training, ‘attitude determines altitude.’ To reach full altitude, you need an excellent pilot and a supportive team.

One essential is a boss or partner who is keen to sponsor the programme and prepared to acknowledge his or her need and desire to learn more. The more the champion ‘pulls’ for the programme, the more successful it will be.

Another essential is a couple of very versatile experienced trainers. There would have to be an initial conversation to choose the theme and understand any specific team issues, and then some pulling together of materials. Then it’s ‘prepare for take off’.

Intrigued? Would you like to explore whether an apporach like this might be right for your organisation?

Please get in touch with

Charles charles@charleskingsmill.com or

Martina martina.weinberger@togunaleadership.com