In their 2005 study Learning Transfer: A Review of the Research in Adult Education and Training, authors Sharan B. Merriam and Brendan Leahy state that, while organizations spend millions of dollars every year on continuing education and training, “less than 10% of this expenditure pays off in improved performance at work.”
How can you ensure that the investment you make in educating your learners is reflected in your organization?
This article was originally published in 2017.
Top 5 LMS Features to Improve Knowledge Transfer
What is knowledge transfer?
First, it is important to understand exactly what we mean when we talk about knowledge transfer.
Simply put, knowledge transfer is the degree to which a learned behavior will be repeated in the workplace. Knowledge transfer can be defined as “the effective and continuing application by learners – to their performance of jobs or other individual, organizational, or community responsibilities – of knowledge and skills gained in learning activities“ (Broad, 1997, p. 2).
It comes about when learners take the knowledge and skills that gained through learning activities and effectively apply them in their day-to-day tasks. The concept of transfer is crucial, because learning is not useful if transfer does not occur.
Transfer is talked about in two ways:
- near transfer, where skills and knowledge are applied the same way every time the skill or knowledge is used,
- and far transfer, which requires learners to use the same skills and knowledge, but in different situations or contexts.
Think of near transfer as emphasizing specific concepts and skills, while far transfer focuses on learning the fundamental aspects of something. Both are equally important, and both can be impacted by different variables that affect knowledge transfer.
3 Knowledge transfer variables.
In the same study mentioned above, Merriam and Leahy point to three variables that affect knowledge transfer:
1. Participant Characteristics
This includes factors such as a learner’s motivation to apply the training they receive, as well as self-efficacy, meaning a learner’s confidence in their ability to transfer the training they receive to their workplace.
The more motivated an individual is to learn a task, and the more they believe that they can learn, the more likely learning will be transferred.
2. Work Environment
Environmental factors include such things as a learner’s opportunity to use newly-learned skills when back in the workplace, incentives, financial or otherwise, to transfer learning, support from management and peers, and the climate of the organization – is training valued? Are learners encouraged to try new things, and learn from their mistakes?
3. Design and Content of the Training Program
The LMS your organization chooses to facilitate training has a huge impact on knowledge transfer. If, as Merriam and Leahy suggest, 90% of training is wasted, it is important to understand what you should look for in a learning management system so that you choose an LMS that can help you overcome the transfer gap.
Factors that affect knowledge transfer include the number and type of instructional methodologies and positive feedback opportunities, but there is so much more that you should look for in an LMS that it is worth exploring this variable further.
6 LMS features that aid in knowledge transfer.
Clearly, there is a connection between certain design features of a learning management system and the transfer of learning.
You probably already have a few features in mind that you know allow an LMS to effectively deliver training, such as responsive design and scalability, but training is only one piece of the puzzle.
Effective delivery of knowledge to your learners is great, but if that knowledge isn’t transferred to the workplace, that’s opportunity (and dollars) lost for your organization.
Look for a learning management system that provides:
1. Mobile learning
Your learners should be able to access training anytime, anywhere. This is especially important for knowledge transfer, as it allows learners to review training on an as-needed basis, and practice skills when the opportunity arises. To learn more about mobile learning, check out The Top Benefits and Challenges of Mobile Learning.
2. Varied learning methodologies
The LMS you choose should allow you to offer both traditional and non-traditional learning content, from lectures, to webinars, to community forums, or a blended learning combination of all these. A variety of learning methodologies keeps the learner engaged and encourages the retention of the knowledge or skill being taught.
3. Online communities
In Choosing the Right eLearning Methods: Factors and Elements, the author refers to the Learning Pyramid, which shows that learner recall increases dramatically once learning moves from passive to active.
While a straightforward lecture will result in 5% learner recall, a discussion will result in 50% recall. Make sure your LMS allows you to provide a forum where learners may ask questions related to the course material and receive instant feedback.
Gamification, or the use of game-like design characteristics in a non-game environment, makes training more engaging, and also serves to motivate the learner. Both of these make the knowledge and skills gained during training more likely to be retained once the learner is back in the workplace.
Gamification is found to be a “much more convenient vehicle for building intrinsic motivation” which has been proven to enable knowledge transfer. To learn more about gamification, check out 7 Benefits of Gamification in eLearning.
This will help learners understand how they are progressing and guide them to information that addresses their weaknesses.
Microlearning allows learners to view smaller, “bite-sized” pieces of course content on the go. As Christopher Pappas notes, with bite-sized learning, learners have the “ability to absorb and assimilate each topic before progressing to the next” (read the full article here: 8 Tips to Improve Knowledge Transfer in eLearning). These smaller chunks are easier to remember when the time comes for knowledge transfer in the workplace.
Perhaps most importantly, learning management systems act as training repositories. By collecting training in one easy-to-access place on an LMS, learners can access information they need on-the-job when it is most convenient for them. This helps strengthen the bond between training and transfer, and is especially helpful in the near transfer of skills, when learners can review exactly the skills or knowledge they need for a given situation.
Ultimately, the important thing to remember is that data and information must be distinguished from knowledge. As Christopher Pappas notes, “knowledge can only be acquired when information is successfully absorbed and assimilated,” meaning that knowledge transfer is the goal. By looking for an LMS that offers design features like the above, you can help ensure your training program is a valuable tool, not a drain.
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