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How to Design Learning That People Can Actually Apply on the Job - A Conversation with Paul Matthews

Nihal Salah
Aug 25 2020

Before we dive into talking about how to design learning that your people can actually apply (learning transfer), I’ve got a riddle for you: 

You take your car to your local mechanics because it’s been stalling. 

There’s a new mechanic named Mike. He’s a nice fella. 


He asks you what the trouble is with your car and you explain the situation. He has a quick look under the hood and tells you he needs to change a part. Mike reassures you it shouldn’t take too long and he pops to the storage room to get the part. 

Mike comes back with a look of disappointment on his face. Turns out  they don’t have the part in stock and will need to order it. It should arrive by tomorrow. 

Here’s a question for you: is Mike a competent mechanic? Do you think we ought to send Mike for some sort of training? 

Before worrying about learning transfer, make sure you need learning in the first place

Of course we don’t need to send Mike off for training. 

The problem wasn’t that Mike couldn’t fix the car, it was that he was missing a part. Something that was completely out of his control -  an external variable in his environment that rendered him incapable of completing the task at hand. 

Seems obvious right? We wouldn’t just send Mike off to complete an e-learning module. 

So why is it then, when we’re approached by managers in our businesses claiming that certain individuals have a ‘performance’ problem, our first reaction is to sort out a learning intervention. 

What if the issue was the equivalent to Mike’s missing spare part?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to invest some time in exploring the underlying issue before jumping to the conclusion that there is a performance problem? 

This step is skipped far too often. And we bring in performance consultancy way too early. 

At face value, what might seem like a performance issue can be a capability issue in disguise. It just needs unpicking with good questioning. 

(Here’s a blog I recently wrote about types of questions L&D should be asking business leaders). 

By taking the time to ask these questions, you’ll avoid wasting valuable resources on creating a solution for the wrong problem! 

If your questioning and exploration reveal that the issue really is one that a learning intervention can address, then learning consultancy can play a valuable role. 

At that point, we can start talking about building learning transfer into learning design to make sure that your people can effectively apply the learning to their jobs.

Let’s go back to Mike for a moment.


Let’s say you go back to see him the following day. He’s got the spare part and he fixes your car. You drive off and within 10 minutes, it starts stalling again. 

You decide to go to another mechanic. Turns out Mike’s installed the part incorrectly. 

Now we know Mike might need some sort of intervention to ensure he knows how to correctly install that part.

When we start designing this intervention, we need to make sure that Mike will be able to apply what he’s learnt. Otherwise, we’ll have wasted money and time. 


How to Build Learning Transfer into Your Learning Interventions 

So how do you build learning transfer into your learning interventions? 

We reached out to one of the leading experts when it comes to Learning Transfer - Paul Matthews. 

Paul is the founder of People Alchemy and author of multiple books including Learning Transfer at Work

He recently joined us for a webinar to talk about learning transfer and in this episode, you’ll hear the recording of that conversation. 


If you prefer to watch the webinar, head over 👉here

Here are some of the key things Paul talks about: 

  • A performance diagnostics model you can use to make learning more relevant
  • Some basics for behaviour change that really work
  • The 12 levers to pull to make learning transfer more effective


Our Favourite Parts of the Conversation

  • [Paul Matthews 10:48]So when you're talking as an L&D professional with the business, get real clarity about that word, or any similar sort of ideas as to what people mean by that. So we can have Mike as a competent mechanic, but you can put them into a situation where he is rendered incapable by his surroundings. Here’s a picture that will help to remind you of that. There's Dennis, he's a very competent donkey. I believe Mike and Dennis know each other, they're both very competent. But right now, Dennis is incapable of pulling the cart, he can’t, his feet are off the ground. And the reason he can't pull the car is pretty clearly he's got a really bad manager who doesn't understand how to load the cart up properly. So there is a competent donkey rendered incapable by bad managers. “


    • [Paul Matthews 14:00]  “All too often what happens is someone says “we're not getting the performance we want. Therefore they're not capable. Therefore, they must be missing skills and knowledge. So therefore, we'll train them”. There's a very good chance the root cause of the lack of performance comes from somewhere else anyway. So the training is never going to work. And certainly trying to transfer it is pointless because it's still not going to help anything.” 
  • [Paul Matthews 14:30] "If you just think back over the last few weeks of what you've been doing, and think about the things that you were able to achieve and the things that you were unable to achieve. In other words, tasks you delegated to yourself or someone delegated to you and you were unable to do them on time or to the quality you want. In other words, your performance was less than perhaps ideal. And then think about how many of those times you performed poorly on a task over the last month was a result of you not knowing what to do and how many of those times it was because of something outside of you, that was limiting your ability to do that task effectively. 

Most people I talked to say, “a good 70/80/90% of the time, I know what to do, I want to do it, I'm okay. It's just that the train was late, the IT broke down, my laptop didn't work, a colleague didn't deliver their stuff on time”. 

Something happened that actually stopped you, whether it was in your control or not. So what we find is that the vast majority of performance issues often arise in the environment around someone. So really, what we've got to do here is get this idea that just because someone's asking for training doesn't mean that we should automatically give them training. It's this difference between want and need, they want an ice cream, but actually, they might need an apple.” 

  • [Paul Matthews 27:19] Unless you get your head around informal learning, you'll really struggle to do learning transfer well. Because most learning transfer happens informally after a training course." 


Links We Love ❤️

Say hello 👋 to Matthew on Linkedin 

Check out Paul’s book 📗 Learning Transfer at Work: How to Ensure Training >> Performance

Check out Paul’s website 🌐 



*There’s a chance this transcript has a few spelling errors. I use a wonderful transcription tool called Otter. He's usually super accurate but he does get the odd word wrong. But please don’t hold it against him 😊.

[Paul Matthews]  0:52  

Hey, how's everybody? I'm going to talk about elephants! So that's why the big picture on elephants there, which is really interesting. There's three more elephants and this metaphor that came out of when I started writing my third book on L&D and the learning transfer one that’ve just been talked about. I called it the elephant in the room there, the elephant that people are ignoring. I was most amused also to hear, by the way there's a similar expression in Brazil which they say there, it's the goat under the table, so it's a little bit different. And I started then thinking about the other books I'd written and realised those were also elephants in the room. So I've been writing about elephants for years and never knew it. So that's why we've got three elephants there. So what we're going to do is focus a little bit this time on some of the things about learning transfer, and also how that impacts at a strategic level. So we're going to look at some really practical tools and ideas and also see how they play out at a higher, more strategic level. So it's gonna be interesting having that mix. This is Mike, we'll come back to Mike. We've got a story about Mike, so he's going to help us a little later on. But to start with, we'll look at a particular tool. And for many of us in L&D, this is kind of where it starts. Somebody out there in operations land has a problem, things aren't going as well as they would like, and they say, “Okay, we've got this poor performance, what are we going to do about it?” And what they typically come and ask for, what they want is training. It's very common. When I ask this at conferences, all the hands going up, so yes, the managers come and ask for training, when they're not getting the performance they want. There's an automatic assumption that if people aren't doing their job properly, they're in some way defective or faulty or missing something and therefore they need training. Unfortunately, that's actually a big myth, usually in most cases. Because for them to come and ask for that, this is the equation that must be going on in their mind. So if you just read that one through, just think about it, there's not a single one of those equal signs really is totally true all of the time. And yet, that must be what's happening in that managers mind in order for them to ask for training to solve their performance problem. The only way that will ever work by the way, and it is possible to make it work, is if you sprinkle pixie dust on it. And I don't have any pixie dust left. I don't know whether you do, I've asked that many times. I'm still looking for a pixie dust dealer but I can't find one. I've been told that's what pixie dust looks like or fairy dust if you want to call it that. But I don't know, I don't even know that it's really pixie dust or just a fake. I suspect it's a fake given how little of it there is around. And you see, because we don't have those sackfuls of pixie dust to sprinkle on people that come to the training room, there's a lot that you've got to do both before they come to the training room and after they come to the training room in order for them to end up operationalizing what you've done with them in the training room, or on an E-learning course on an LMS, or whatever. So it's just so it's a formal intervention, usually training, but it could also be online. And really, if we don't do this other stuff that's wrapped around that formal intervention, then we're actually wasting a huge amount of money. It's just falling out. And so what we're going to do is have a look at a few ways that you can help save yourself some money, which is usually the thing that most people quite like to do, especially with the pressure that's on budgets at the moment. So if you think about a performance system, so you've got some inputs and some outputs, and there's some people in procedures and processes and gears and machinery in the middle of that box, that is the system. And if you're not getting the outputs you want, clearly there's either something wrong inside the box, or the inputs are not right. So, the first place to start looking is inside the box. But the trouble is we sort of look at this as a closed system very often.


And it's an interesting thing that performance is actually, in linguistically, it's a nominalization, it's a verb that's been turned into a noun. And as soon as you turn a verb into a noun, it sort of looks static and fixed. It's something that then is more difficult to do something with. There's a lot of those nominalizations that cause problems. And another one is communication, another one's relationship, you think about it. So it's about people performing or communicating, and they can change, and that can get better or worse, and it ebbs and flows. And that's why it makes it more easy to think about that as a verb than as a noun. But anyway, let's leave it for a verb at the moment, that's kind of helped people focus on it. But what they do is, they kind of look at that box as a black box without looking inside it. And so that's what we’re gonna do now is, I'll give you a simple tool to start looking inside that box to say, “well, if you're not getting the performance you want, how can we look at it differently to understand where the leavers are so that we can go and pull those levers and change that performance”. And this is really relevant because what we need to do is find out if we're not getting the outputs we want, whether injecting training, or any kind of formal learning intervention into that system is going to make a difference. Because if it isn't, there's no point in doing it and then using learning transfer. So this is one of the first steps as, I guess it's a relevancy test in a way. So let's start looking at this system. 


[Paul Matthews]  6:40 

So if we want performance out the top, clearly we need people to be capable at the point of work of doing what they need to do. And there's actually two factors that lead into them being capable at the point of work. And this is where we're going to have Mike help us out here. So let's come back to Mike. So, I’ll tell you a story about Mike. He's a mechanic as you can see, a very capable mechanic. He looks great in his blue overalls there. But just imagine for a moment that you are taking a seven year old boy to football practice, whether it's English football or American football or whatever, it's the sport that he loves, he really wants to go. You've ended up with taxi duty, so you're taking little Johnny to his sports practice and you come out of your driveway and you can hear a strange noise somewhere near the engine of your car and you're a bit worried about that because you've not heard that engine, that noise there in the engine before. So you just drive it around the corner to your local workshop, your garage, the place that you always take it. They know you, been there for years. And this is Mike having a listen to your car to find out what that noise might be. And he says “that's okay, it happens sometimes with this model. It’s a little plastic piece, it's cracked, it's rattling. That's what we can hear, I'll just get a new one out of the spare parts department and you'll be on your way, all fixed in a few minutes”. And you turn to little Johnny and say, “it’s okay, we've got some time to spare. Mike will fix the car and then we'll be on to football practice”. However, Mike comes back a couple of minutes later and says “I'm really sorry, but we don't have that spare part in stock. So I can't fix your car right now. Now we normally have it in stock. It's our fault. I'm really sorry. You're a regular customer. We'll get it couriered in and I'll come to your place first thing tomorrow morning and I'll fix it on your driveway completely for free. Our service to you. But I would take your car straight home right now because if you keep driving it and the rest of that plastic piece breaks off. There's a good chance you could do some serious engine damage. So just take it straight back home right now”. Johnny's looking a little upset at this point. He's worrying about missing football practice. So you're driving round the corner straight back home. And my question to you is, was that mechanic capable of fixing your car? Yes or no? So just notice what your answer to that question is. And some of you might be thinking, yes, he was capable. And some of you might be thinking, well, no, he wasn't. But what if I was to ask little Johnny, when he stops crying, was he worried about missing football practice? So “okay, Johnny we’ll get a taxi, we can sort this out not a problem. We'll grab a taxi and we'll go to football practice together”. But Johnny, was Mike capable of fixing our car? and little Johnny is always gonna say no, because you've got a broken car still. And what's really interesting here is that a lot of people I think, when I ask that question, are thinking, are actually answering a slightly different question. They're answering the question: Was Mike competent to fix the car? And the answer is yes! He's absolutely competent. You can tell he's a competent mechanic by that picture. Absolutely. But in the moment, actually, he was not capable of fixing the car because he didn't have a spare part. Now we don't know why he didn't have a spare part. There might be all sorts of reasons. But effectively, what we do know is in the moment, when asked to do his job, he was incapable. And it wasn't that he had a competency problem. So sending him off to a training course wouldn't have helped. But what he did have was an environment problem, something around him was limiting his ability to do the job. So just for the purposes, for the moment, let's define capability as “can the worker do the job in front of them? Yes or no. And you'll find that people use those words, competence and capability, quite interchangeably often, and sometimes meaning different things. 


[Paul Matthews]  10:48

So when you're talking as an L&D professional with the business, get real clarity about that word, or any similar sort of ideas as to what people mean by that. So we can have Mike as a competent mechanic, but you can put them into a situation where he is rendered incapable by his surroundings. Here’s a picture that will help to remind you of that. There's Dennis, he's a very competent donkey. I believe Mike and Dennis know each other, they're both very competent. But right now, Dennis is incapable of pulling the cart, he can’t, his feet are off the ground. And the reason he can't pull the car is pretty clearly he's got a really bad manager who doesn't understand how to load the cart up properly. So there is a competent donkey rendered incapable by bad managers. And when I say that, a lot of people say “oh, yeah, no, we've got that. That happens at our company, management is one of our problems”. So what's really interesting is if we go back to our original diagram, we've got performance and then capability at the point of work. We're talking about the performer, the person who's doing the performing. Remember, we're talking about a verb here, not a noun. And those are the components that you might consider as being what make up competence and someone's ready to do the job. Knowledge and facts, skills and expertise, are things that you need to practice a little bit. And then the insight and understanding on how to use that knowledge and those skills. The mental state is sort of; How do I feel at the moment? Do I want to do it? Am I motivated to do it? And the physical state is really, am I physically capable of doing it? So some jobs do require a certain level of physical stamina, or skill, or height, or dexterity, or whatever in order to do it. So those are all the components of competence. And then we look at the other side of this page, and that's the environment, the stage on which that performer is performing. And you put all of these other things that are related to it, including, in Mike's case, the missing spare part. So these are all the factors that make up and, in effect, competence of the environment. It's interesting. We do these competency frameworks for people. And yet we very seldom do a competency framework for the environment, perhaps we should be. Now, some organisations do get into that kind of thing, but usually at quite a high level, they don't normally do it focused at the individual worker level to see how they're being supported by the environment, or hindered by their environment. And that's really quite interesting. So we end up with this overall diagram of these two factors that lead into someone being capable at the point of work in order to deliver on what's necessary to deliver the performance, and therefore the results that are required.


[Paul Matthews]  13:41

What are the... This actually comes out of my second book on capability, but there's a nice tool to dig into this, is the cause effect diagram, sometimes called the fishbone diagram or the Ishikawa diagram. So that's a way you can start looking at this and drilling down into it. So I’m not going to go into that in detail here, we don't really have the time. But what I'm trying to point out is that if you think about it, most of the time when someone is not capable at the point of work and is therefore deemed to be not performing in the moment. Most of the time, the problem is on the right hand side of that page, not the left hand side. But all too often what happens is someone says “we're not getting the performance we want. Therefore they're not capable. Therefore, they must be missing skills and knowledge. So therefore, we'll train them”. And all they're doing is dealing with those top two bullets on the left hand side, when there's a very good chance the root cause of the lack of performance comes from somewhere else anyway. So the training is never going to work. And certainly trying to transfer it is pointless because it's still not going to help anything. If you just think back over the last, oh I don't know, a few weeks of what you've been doing, and think about the things that you were able to achieve and the things that you were unable to achieve. In other words, tasks you delegated to yourself or someone delegated to you and you were unable to do them on time or to the quality you want. In other words, your performance was less than perhaps ideal. And then think about how many of those times you performed poorly on a task over the last month was a result of you not knowing what to do and how many of those times it was because of something outside of you, that was limiting your ability to do that task effectively. Most people I talked to say, “a good 70/80/90% of the time, I know what to do, I want to do it, I'm okay. It's just that the train was late, the IT broke down, my laptop didn't work, a colleague didn't deliver their stuff on time”. Something happened that actually stopped you, whether it was in your control or not. So what we find is that the vast majority of performance issues often arise in the environment around someone. So really, what we've got to do here is get this idea that just because someone's asking for training doesn't mean that we should automatically give them training. It's this difference between want and need, they want an ice cream, but actually, they might need an apple. That's one that I, I love ice cream. But anyway. So just because that manager wants training, you need to go through a process to help filter those requests, to understand which ones will actually result in an operational performance improvement. And which ones, because the root cause has nothing to do with knowledge or skills, where the training probably won't have much effect. And that process I've just kind of given you is one that you can take through that manager when they come asking for training. And effectively you got a situation like this where you're putting a shield or a filter up around learning and development to protect that L&D budget you've got. A lot of the requests that come in will bounce off that filter, because they really should never get into L&D at all. 


[Paul Matthews]  16:58

And I've seen this happen in organisations, where if, and now we're going to go up to a strategic level, if you start thinking at a strategy level that we will have this performance consultancy discussion with anybody that comes to us with a training request. And that's a strategic imperative within the way that you're going to manage your L&D strategy, then you will save yourself a lot of money, because a lot of the requests for training won't get actioned inside L&D, they'll end up bouncing back into the business because the real problem is out there in operations land. And it's not one that you can fix with a learning solution. Or certainly learning, even if it is part of that solution, could well be a very small part. So this is about that filter around L&D. But for that little white arrow, the ones that do get through into your L&D department where you then start saying “right, now we’ve got to do something about that learning request, because we know it's real and we know it can have an impact to the business level”. Then you can start doing something with it. And what I've done there is separate that process into two pieces. So again, this is a strategic approach. It’s like, first let's do performance consultancy and then when that process of performance consultancy has proved that we need some training, or some e-learning, or whatever, it is as a formal intervention, then we will start doing learning consultancy.


[Paul Matthews]  18:26

Okay, there's a fundamental difference there. And performance consultancy starts from the premise that we're not really sure what's going wrong, but something's going wrong. So we're going to go and investigate and find out where the problem is, where the barriers to performance are, where the causes are. And so this is performance consultancy. At some point in time, if that proves that we need some learning, then we'll start doing learning consultancy and learning consultancy starts from the premise that I know there's going to be a learning solution. I don't know what it is yet and within it, how it's going to get delivered. But we know that we're going to get learning involved at some point and it might be a job aid, it might be classroom, it might be e-learning, it might be coaching, or anything else. Who knows what it might be. But that's the learning consultancy piece. And what I see a lot of L&D people doing is leaping into doing learning consultancy too early before they have actually proven the case that a learning intervention is even going to be useful for the presenting problem. So okay, so that's, again, that strategy thing. And the reason I'm saying that this is relevant to learning transfer is, there's no point in adding learning transfer stuff to a training programme, where the training programme itself is not going to help the business. So that relevancy is a critical part, if you like, of learning transfer, because it stops you doing a lot of stuff that's unnecessary. And then the next thing of course, is if you are going to then invest some budget into the formal training and learning, then you need to be thinking about learning transfer. Many will have heard Robert Brinkerhoff’s research, he was a professor at Western Michigan University. And he developed a success case method for evaluating learning impact consult, which is a very good tool. I really rate it highly as a tool. But his research in general came up with a rough figure of one and six, or thereabouts, of people will implement what you give them in a training course assuming you just put them in a room and do a fairly traditional training approach. And there's lots of other figures from other research. And what's interesting is learning transfer research goes back over 110 years, would you believe, the first academic paper is that old, so this is not new. The academic world has been doing work on this for ages. And that's perhaps one of the problems, is there's so much research on it, it's actually difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. But I want to get to something shortly, which will help you do that. So, when we think about learning transfer, this is a cartoon I saw. And I can't remember where I found that now. So I do apologise for attribution. But there's this whole idea of there is a training course and then something happens. So back to that pixie dust stuff. Again, if you think about it, there's magic. And then performance improves. So what is that magic? and it has to be learning transcript. It has to be taking what you've learned in the classroom, embedding it and sustaining it and operationalizing it out there in the workflow. And of course, that means you're going to have to do some things out there in the workflow, because without the pixie dust, without this stuff, no one is going to leave that classroom fully operational. That just doesn't happen. That's not how classrooms work. So, despite the fact the manager might wish you to be able to do that. That's not kind of how it's going to work. And so you do have to spend some time, often with managers saying “this is, you know, we can do a certain amount. But ultimately a lot of this has to come back to you”. So as a learning and development professional, don't let the manager make you responsible for the operational capability of their people. And I use the word capability there, because so much of what leads into capability, as you saw in that earlier diagram, are the things in the environment. And a lot of those are of course, under the control of the local manager, not all of them, but a lot of them are, certainly. 


[Paul Matthews] 22:37

So here's the good news. There are leavers inside that system. And there are transfer leavers. This… I won't go through all of these in detail. There's a website down there on the bottom right or not, the slides will be available so you can go and have a look, but I've done some work with Dr. Ina Weinbauer-Heidel, she did a PhD in learning transfer. She's based in Austria. And in fact, she's over here in the UK in a couple of weeks, and I'm speaking with her at the World of Learning Conference. So be good to see her again. But she did a PhD and she went through all of this research, which is why I know it goes back over 110 years, but she told me. And she came up with a massive list of determinants of learning transfer, and then started whittling that down and joining some together that was similar, and so on. So she came down and ended up with this model, where there's actually 12 different leavers, as she calls them, for learning transfer. And she's written a book on it with those 12 leavers in it. I would highly recommend you get a copy to really practical stuff. And basically, for success at learning transfer, you need to go through and do something with all of those different levers. Now, we're not got time today to go through all of them, but we're going to touch on a couple more. But one of the ones I have been talking about up to now is number five, content relevance. Because if the content is not relevant, people won't transfer it. And that's why you need to do that diagnostic stuff up front correctly. So that when you do deliver formal training to people, or e-learning, it's relevant to them. Because if it's not relevant, they're just going to say, “I don't care”. See, adults are quite goal orientated as learners. So unless they can see that what you're asking them to learn, will have a direct impact on one of the things that they’re trying to achieve. They actually…  “I got other things to do, I can't be bothered with that”. So, but you'll notice there's some, the first three there about the trainees are very much about the mindset of the trainee. And then there's stuff about design, and then stuff about organisation. And number 12 is in some ways the big one because that's the culture of the organisation, what is being expected, so I'm gonna come back to a couple of these. So what I’m going to do is just come back to our performance diagram again and have another look at that and thinking, well, if we've done our diagnostics process, and we've proven that some input of training would be useful or some other formal intervention, how are we going to make sure that when we input training into that system, it has an impact over the long haul? Because that's what we want, is something to be embedded and sustained. So there's a few things that I'm going to touch on here that will give you a practical way to look at this. And of course, when you think about that, from a strategic perspective, what we're really saying is, at a strategy level, if we put people in a classroom, we will do what it takes to embed and sustain and transfer that learning. That should be a statement of that ilk in your strategy document at a high level. So then you can start thinking you don't do just a one day training. We now have a maybe a four or five day programme spread over six months. One day of that happens to be in the classroom, so you need to be starting to think about programmes, not events. And thinking about performance as the output rather than learning. So just those two shifts themselves need to be really obvious and explicitly stated in your learning strategy. So, go back to your learning strategy and look at that. What I sometimes do with people, I say “let's give it the elephant test”. Because I get a lot of people showing me their learning strategies “can you comment on this or that”. So fascinating seeing all the different ones. But take your learning strategy with a highlighter pen and go through it and just highlight any sections that apply to any of those three elephants, and the three elephants are: one is the performance consultancy stuff I've been talking about? Do you do a full performance consultancy process before you get into something that you would term learning consultancy? If not, that should be in the learning strategy. Do you pay any attention to informal learning? And this is the 70:20:10 stuff, and so on. An interesting model, I kind of love it and I hate it for different reasons, but we won't go into that here. But you need to be paying attention to all of the learning that's happening outside of the formal channels, because that's actually where most of it is happening.


[Paul Matthews] 27:19

And also, unless you get your head around informal learning, you'll really struggle to do learning transfer well. Because most learning transfer happens informally after a training course. And then the third elephant is the learning transfer. So goes through: performance consultancy, informal learning, learning transfer. Highlight any sentences that relate to those three. And oh, by the way, there's a fourth sneaky elephant. And that's the brand of L&D because if you don't get those first three elephants herded up and dealt with, you will find that the brand of L&D, the reputation of L&D, will suffer. And then if your brand is not good as a provider within the organisation, you'll have it really difficult to be effective. So, again, so you need to be having, I would suggest some line items in your learning strategy about how you are maintaining, promoting, and improving the brand of L&D within the organisation. So that's just a little challenge for you with your learning strategy. You do have a learning strategy document, don't you? I hope you do. Anyway, so let's just come back from there. And we'll talk about, here's a typical set of delegates going home from your classroom. There's always one clown, isn't there? but never mind. So we're just sticking with the African theme here. And the next thing they're going to have to do, given what they learned in the classroom, is start experimenting and practising and getting supported doing that in the workflow in their real job. Because if they don't do that, it's never going to transfer is it? It's just, it isn't going to happen. So what you got to do is give them opportunities to experiment. So let's say they did something really interesting in their training. Oh, I don't know, like, I don't know, bottle feeding a tiger cub. So you've got to have tiger cubs available and some spare ones in the background. So you're never going to learn that in the classroom. Really, you'll learn some of the things, how the temperature of the milk, and all sorts. But until you have a bottle in one hand and the tiger cub in the other. That'd be kind of fun, wouldn't it? I'd enjoy doing that. That'd be really interesting. But that's where you're going to really learn it, is doing it. And yet so often we push people out of the classroom and then we do nothing. We sort of somehow assume there’s pixie dust present, but trust me, there isn't. Anyway, so, this is this experimentation and practice. And then what are you going to do as part of the learning transfer is encourage reflection. And I'll give you a little model on reflection. It's one I developed a while back, I call it the learning stack. I'll be talking about this. The basic premise behind this is that there’s no learning that happens without some level of reflection somewhere. And I was asked to do some studies and research on this years ago by the British Law Society, and I wrote some articles for them on it, and came up with this model. And I basically say that we need some levels of reflection. And my question to myself was, well, if we can manipulate or manage the quality and quantity of reflection, can we as a result, manage to some extent the quality and quantity of learning? And I think the answer is yes. So I’ll just give you a quick rundown of these different levels here. So at the bottom level, level one, I call it unconscious reflection, which sounds a bit odd. But if you think about it, that's what, that's the practice makes perfect stuff. If you keep doing something regularly, even if you're not really thinking about what you're doing, you tend to get better at it. Because unconsciously, there's a targeting mechanism in your mind, which enables you to move towards a desired outcome.


That's the ‘practice makes perfect' thing. At the next level up, you've got that sort of conscious reflection where you are just thinking, “well what happened, what went on?” So it's where you're questioning yourself, who does that better? So it's with questions. The third level up is where you externalise it. And that might be to a journal or a diary, it might be to a colleague, or the next desk, or just to the dog when you're taking the dog for a walk. And the reason that's another level of reflection is in order to externalise it, you have to bring in all your language centres in your brain. Which you typically aren't usually doing that much when it's all internal reflection with your own sort of internal, I don’t know, baby talk or whatever. So that externalisation into understandable language that someone else could understand, or you can understand later when you read it later. The fourth level is again, it's externalised. But this time we are thinking about, well, somebody might judge me based on what I put out there. So I'm gonna think twice before I say that to my boss, or my coach, or think twice before I, you know, put that report in, submit it, and so on. So there's the sense of awareness of judgement, which means I will look over it more than once to check. 


[Paul Matthews] 32:17

And then at the fifth level, you've probably heard the old adage, the best way to learn something is to teach it. I don't think that's totally true. I think actually, the juice comes when you prepare the lesson plan to teach it. So there is the five levels, and that top one is preparing the lesson plan. So it's also really good, you know, when people come back from a training course is to just say, “well prepare a little short presentation of what you learned for the rest of the team that didn't go on the course with you”. This is useful as a way to look at any of your learning interventions. In fact, just think about well, if I'm going to do this particular learning intervention, how far up the stack is it going to push them? Because the further up that stack, you can push them, the more that stuff will be memorised, the more it will generalise, the more it will link to other things they've already got. And the more it'll stick. So it's a useful way to look at anything. Anyway, let's move on. So, that's just a model to think about, how do we encourage and focus on reflection following activities which follow a training course? And of course, this is so, we come into this idea of delivering activities, not just lots more content. There's some people that’ll say “we do learning transfer, and we've got this portal, these extra e-learning and all of this”, I'm thinking it's just a whole lot more content. There's nothing wrong with that. But actually, it probably won't work very much because people probably won’t visit it that much. So what you want to do is start thinking about delivering activities to people. And there's some interesting research done by BJ Fogg at Stanford University, which I leant on. And this is in my book on learning transfer too and it's the Fogg of behaviour model. So it's Fogg with two G's, and he's got... By the way, his website is wonderful, there's all sorts of great stuff on there, it's well worth a good look around. So he came up with this formula amongst all of the other behavioural science stuff he does, is behaviour happens when there's motivation in place, when there's the ability to do it, and there's a prompt in place, and that's this formula of B equals MAP. So a behaviour will occur when these other three things are present at the same time, at least at a threshold level. So if we put on this graph, ability down the bottom. So the first thing if I was to ask you to do something for me, if I was just to give you a prompt, a call to action, I don't know. Could you please fetch me a glass of water? The first thing that will go through your mind is how difficult is that to do? Will it frustrate me? Will it annoy me? Can I do it? Is it easy to do? Is it hard to do? So that bottom thing is my impression of how difficult something is to do when I'm asked to do it. Is it easy? Is it hard? And up the side we've got how motivated I am in the moment to do that thing now that I have a judgement of how difficult it is to do. So fairly obviously, if you've got prompts that are easy to do, and I'm highly motivated to do them, the behaviour will occur, it will certainly the prompt will succeed, the behaviour will start.


Also, clearly, if you've got a prompt where it looks like it's something that's hard to do, will take me a long time, and be frustrating or difficult, and actually my motivation right now it's not that high anyway, chances are the prompt will fail. So you've got what he calls an action line. So any prompts to the right of that line will succeed, prompts below will fail. Now what I find really interesting is very often when people are doing some follow up from a training course, they deliver people prompts that are all below the action line. And then they wonder why they don't work? Well, this is why. And the typical scenario for this, by the way is, you know, at the end of a training day, you might say, “well, can you write down three goals you're going to achieve as a result of this training”. And usually, those are quite big goals. So when I come to look at them, after the training, I'm thinking, ‘oh my God, I don't want to start that today. That's too big, I won't do that’. So what you end up with is the idea that you really need to be delivering lots of little activities often over a period of time that cumulatively build up to the bigger things that you're wanting them to do. So in terms of follow up to a training course for learning transfer, the little and often mantra, you need to be keeping to that, how do we deliver them lots of little activities over a period of time. And each of those activities is small enough they can say, “oh, I can do that. I'll do that”. The way you deliver that prompt can also make a big difference. So the wording around the prompt, the time it's delivered, the time of day, all of those sorts of things have an impact on the level of motivation that might be there in the moment when the prompt is delivered. So there's a whole science around that. And again, we don't have time right now to get into it. There's more in my book on that. So that's just folks, behavioural model. So again, this is this concept at a strategic level, if we're saying we must do learning transfer, that means we got to be thinking about a programme spread over time. And that means we're going to do, well what are we going to do over that period of time? What we're doing is delivering lots of little activities, that cumulatively, over time we'll get people to practice, experiment, and so on, until the way they are doing things is just the new way. Until that behaviour, that new behaviour, becomes embedded and then sustained over the long term. And then it's just the way people do things around there. So effectively, you're talking about culture change. So if we’re thinking about culture, let's look at this one. So this was that number 12 on those 12 leavers model, is the transfer expectations depend on the culture. So I remember being in a training room centre once with the head of training, and we were sitting there having a coffee and talking about stuff. And we watched a lot of delegates come out of the training rooms to go off for their morning tea break, it's England, it’s tea. And I said, If I was to go and ask a lot of those people,’ what would happen if you as a delegate did nothing with what you just learned in the classroom? What would happen?’ And the head of L&D had the good grace to look quite sheepish and say, “well, actually nothing. There are no consequences”. So basically, they had a culture where someone coming back from a training course, there were no expectations set on them at all. So that's the other thing to think about. Strategically, is at a cultural level, what do we need in place in order to support and manage the support that they need to do all the activities? And so on. And this comes back to peer support, to manager support, to environmental support, the opportunity to experiment and practice, and so on. So just think about for the moment following this webinar, what are the transfer expectations that you have of yourself? Are you to do anything with it? I hope so, if not, why are you here? Do you have any colleagues who are aware you're on this webinar? Will you talk to them about it? If so, what are their expectations of what you're going to do? Will anybody even notice if you do something or not about this webinar, or indeed any formal training that you take an hour out to do or even a day out to do? Some really good questions. So how are you going to hold yourself accountable for doing something different?


[Paul Matthews] 40:02

What's really interesting is a lot of companies I work with around learning transfer, and I will do master classes and all sorts on it. And I say to them beforehand, you know, what's going to be your biggest problem? I'm going to teach you about learning transfer, I'll show you what to do. It's actually not that difficult. But your biggest problem is going to be learning transfer. Is actually going away and doing it. Yeah. Now, that's kind of what we've been covering is how do you get that embedded into your learning and development strategy in a way that it becomes an imperative that we look at every course and consider all of the learning transfer aspects around that course, and all of those 12 levers? And then how do we at a tactical level start implementing and making them happen? So what are the other questions on that page in front of us now? What are the forces driving your transfer? So those, that's kind of me done. We got some time for questions now. But if you want to go onto my website, you can see a bit more about some of the stuff that I do. And there's some free downloads on there, some tips, booklets, some other guides and all sorts like that. So there's the three books and the three elephants. But do link up on LinkedIn. I'd be delighted to link with you and have any conversations you want to have. But hopefully, we've got a few questions. So I've not been monitoring the chat. So where are we at with questions? 


[Ilona Brannen]  41:25  

Yeah,thanks for that! Was really, really interesting. We do have some questions. So I'll dive straight in. And the first one is actually from Jill Gary, and it's about the learning stack. So do you consider reflection in the same box as teach-backs? 


[Paul Matthews]  41:42  

Oh, if I knew what a teach-back was, I would...


[Ilona Brannen]  41:46  

I think that's when you go back into the organisation, and please drop in the chat Jill, if I get this wrong, but I think it's when you go back into an organisation and actually teach-back what they just learned. Yeah. So Jill just typed in, asking someone to teach me what they just learned. So do you get that reflection to be in the same box?


[Paul Matthews]  42:04  

Yeah, that's, yes it is. It's at level five in that stack, which is the, you know, preparing a lesson plan to teach. And it's the preparation of that lesson plan. So what you don't want to do is put them on the spot and force them to do it there and then without some reflection. So I say, “please go away and think for 10 minutes, or quarter of an hour, or until tomorrow and then teach-back” to give them time to reflect. And the reason that's really powerful is, in order to do that, you've got to think a bit more about how someone who is new to that subject would approach it, or what they're thinking is around it. So you have to think like a newbie all over again, in effect, and that makes you think about the subject in a different way. And that's why teaching is such a powerful thing. But it's not the actual act of teaching. It's the act of preparing what you're going to teach that actually gives you that insight, and that different way of thinking about it.


[Ilona Brannen]  42:57  

Yeah, that's great. And I guess that also links back to what you were talking about in terms of that transfer expectations? Another question we've had is about, you know, do you have a good example of when, you know, you can build accountability for those transfer expectations?


[Paul Matthews]  43:16  

Yes. I mean, aside from what we're doing here, I also have a software company and we've got some software that can manage that accountability stack, if you like. If you are going to deliver them lots of little activities, you've pretty much got to go digital to do that in order to manage that process effectively. Difficult to do that at scale, with spreadsheets and outlook, but you do have to hold people accountable. And it's not just hold the delegate accountable, there's also usually a need to hold the manager accountable for supporting them effectively. And then you usually have to have another layer again, to hold the manager, the line manager accountable for doing their job to support the delegate. So you need that kind of multi-layer accountability stack in place in order to really make these things work. I mean, once people are used to that, they will then get on with it and do it. But in the early days, you definitely have to hold people accountable. And you've got to do it in a way that they realise the consequences. Because if there are no consequences, they'll just ignore it, because that's easy to do then do. And just keep doing what we've always done is easier than doing something different. So because it does involve change, and so you do typically have to have consequences around that. And I'm not saying big stick to beat them up with or anything but you've also got to lead them as well as drive them. So there needs to be, say, this is useful because there's some benefits to everybody around this. So there's all of that mindset stuff as well. So I'm not saying run around with a big stick and beat people up for not doing something, that's not the right answer either. But it's a mixture of all sorts of...


[Ilona Brannen]  44:56  

Yes, you know, you'd rather sort of get that culture encouraging that sharing. 


[Paul Matthews]  45:03  

Yeah, yes. And also you need to assist them in place. And I mean, a few systems great with the data as well, it’s just saying “where can we find the people that are not doing stuff because they're the weak links in our chain, we need to find them and either help them and convert them to the new way of doing things, or to be honest shift into somewhere where they can do less damage”, because otherwise they're going to be limited, you know, limited on the ability to progress and change culture. 


[Ilona Brannen]  45:30  

Yeah. And with that, is there an element of you know, speed with this? So, you know, being able to go back and teach-back what you've learned quickly? Is there sort of some relevancy about that?


[Paul Matthews]  45:40  

Absolutely. I mean, you've got, you're fighting the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve fairly obviously with this. Well, like anything where you present material to people. But the thing is, that's less of a problem if you've got the relevance thing sorted out because when stuff's relevant, people will go back and start doing it, using it pretty much immediately because it's relevant, because it's something, “well, this works for me right now”. And then they'll also automatically probably start teaching colleagues because they feel it's the best thing to do, “hey, this is really helping me. Yeah, you should do this as well, in a way. You know what, stop doing that old stuff. Hey, this is really neat. I just learned about this, it's cool. You know, you should be doing it too”. So that kind of teach-back will almost start happening automatically if you get the relevance right and the content right.


[Ilona Brannen]  46:26  

Yes, absolutely. And also the, what you mentioned about the external factors, so those processes and systems in place as well to allow that to happen?


[Paul Matthews]  46:34  

Yeah, yeah. So that's the other thing is, what are the, and that's why I went through that first diagram, that sort of environment and use it, you know, what's stopping them doing? So when someone goes back into their workplace, what are the barriers to them implementing the new skills and knowledge they've got? and very often the barriers are too high. And they'll go back and, I mean I've even heard of circumstances where a delegate will go back and the managers are “oh God, that course. I did that years ago, it’s a waste of time. Forget about that. Let's get on with what we normally do”. And that's it. It's all over. So that's the worst case. The best case, of course, is a manager says, “oh, what did you learn? How can I help? Let's get that going. You know, you teach me too please, it's years since I've been on that course”. So you get that whole spectrum of line manager support or not. But ideally, what you want is to try and get that more consistent. And one way to do that, of course, is some kind of digital platform.


[Ilona Brannen]  47:31  

Yeah, and that's really great insight. We have another question here from Katherine Toll, and it's: Would you have a different strategy for mature learners versus newer learners?


[Paul Matthews]  47:43  

Yes. The mature learners usually are going to be more senior, so you'll find the way that they want to learn can be different. I found that they don't really want to go to a classroom often; they'd rather have coaching and do things a bit differently. And also the way that their day planners or diaries are set up is different. So they, you know, might get pulled and pushed a lot more. So aren't as readily available for formal courses and things, just because of the way their schedules work. So there's all of that stuff. But, what I'm not saying is that generational learning, it's gotta work for the people that are there. And what's going to suit them. Someone new into post is going to need a lot more content to come up to speed typically. But what you do have to be very careful, obviously, don't overwhelm them with content too quickly, because otherwise they will just forget most of it before they get to use it. So again, you've got to start thinking about a programme spread over time, rather than an event. So it's also saying, well for that segment, that cohort, whatever, and for that programme, what would be the most beneficial way to spread this stuff over that period of time? What do they need to know now, and then tomorrow, and the next day, and so on? And that probably will vary a bit depending on their seniority.


[Ilona Brannen]  49:11  

Great, no, thank you for that. And I think that's also interesting in terms of the different ways you can have learning now, you know, be it face-to-face, or digital, or a blended approach. And I think all of those will have a different method.


[Paul Matthews]  49:26  

Some of it you've got to come back to that, ‘just in case’ or ‘just in time’ thinking, saying “well, what do we really need to be doing here?” And a lot of adults don't do well with ‘just in case’ learning, because it doesn't have that much relevance for them. “You might need that one day. So we'll teach it to you”. And they're saying “well, what if I never need it?”


[Ilona Brannen]  49:48  

Yeah, that's related to...


[Paul Matthews]  49:50  

And Google has taught us that, you know, so much stuff is available on demand. So it's kind of “when I need it. I'll find that out”. So then you've got to start looking at well, how do we teach them to find that out easily? How do we teach them to use support systems? And how do we teach them to learn, and then unlearn and relearn when they need to? So it's, those are the skills that are becoming almost more important now than actually the knowledge retention itself in a lot of roles.


[Ilona Brannen]  50:16  

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I have another question here, a really good one from Jack Lockhart: What do you see as the three biggest challenges with implementing this different approach and mindset as someone part of a larger team?


[Paul Matthews]  50:31  

Okay. Hi Jack, good to hear from you! Jack, by the way, did some lovely reviews of my three books. So ummm… The biggest challenge usually is going to be your senior team, sorry, because they don't know enough about L&D. So chances are you're going to have to do a sales job on the senior team, to convince them that the money that you might have to spend on learning transfer is worth spending. Because they still have the idea that pixie dust exists, partly because learning and development has convinced them it exists over decades. And they still kind of have that view of, traditional view of learning and training in an organisation. So that's usually the biggest hurdle, is the senior team and convincing them that you need to be doing things a little differently. That's not so easy sometimes. There's a whole bunch of stuff in the front of my green book on learning transfer on some models and ideas you can take to them to help have that conversation. And that's one of the reasons I wrote the book, is to help have that conversation in an effective way with the senior team. And it's easy to do, I mean, but very often, nobody takes the time to do it. So you need to convince them and talk with them too about where they learned everything. And they'll say “what I learned, you know, when I was on the job, when I was doing things. That's where I learned it”. Well, that's what we're going to teach people, that we've got to work with them in the workflow. So that's all part of that conversation. So much of that is about teaching them about informal learning, which is where the 70:20:10 model is really useful, because they can relate to that. And that, to me, is the primary use of the 70:20:10 model. It’s a way of convincing the senior team that informal learning is important. And informal learning is a key component of learning transfer, because it's what people learn after the training course, when they really put it into action. So that would be, I would say, yeah, that the view or the attitude of the senior team is going to be the biggest challenge. But if you think about it, from a budget perspective, you're seeking budget, if you put, let's be generous. I mean, Brinkerhoff said one in six people, let's be generous and say one in five people that you put on a traditional training course will pick up what you give them and run with it. And that's been confirmed so many times, it's there or thereabouts, 20% of the people pick it up and run with it. These are the people with a fairly high growth mindset, if you know Carol Dweck’s work, and then there's a couple of those five who will play with it a bit, they might change a little bit, but you really wouldn't consider them a resounding success. And another couple won't do anything at all, they just do nothing. So if you've spent, I don't know, £100 pounds $100 per head, you've spent 500, putting those five people in the classroom, and only one of them is going to be considered a success. So you've spent 500 on one person to be a success. But if you think about it, you could add a bunch of learning transfer stuff to that programme. And it might cost you another hundred, but you'll pick up more than another two or three people. And you can call them successes. So actually, the ROI on money spent on learning transfer is really obvious and straightforward. But the problem is that people in senior teams still have the myth in their mind that 100% of people coming out of a training course will be fully operational. And so you have to help them understand that that's not the case.


[Ilona Brannen]  54:13  

Thank you for that, Paul. I suppose a small question for me is, actually you know the Brinkerhoff research. Is it different for digital training? Is it...?


[Paul Matthews]  54:23  

I can't really speak to that. The Brinkerhoff stuff was done a long time ago and focused on face-to-face training, so in a traditional sense. There is research I've seen that compares e-learning and face-to-face, and sometimes it, the face-to-face comes out a bit better. Sometimes it's the other way around. And of course, everybody leaps on one or the other, depending on their, what serves themselves the best. And I think that depends on the topic, the situation. and the prevailing culture, and also whether people are allowed to do something with it afterwards. So, there's all of those different factors. We have, again, it's about going back to learning consultancy. Once you've proven through performance consulting that learning is required, then it's about saying, given that, what's the best route for this particular cohort for this subject, in this environment, in this culture? So it's all quite variable.


[Ilona Brannen]  55:21  

Great. We have another question here and it'll be the final question before we close. So it's: isn't it best to use Kirkpatrick's ROE, return on expectations, instead of ROI?


[Paul Matthews]  55:35  

Yeah, I like the return expectations idea, particularly because I'm not a huge fan of detailed ROI crunched the numbers type stuff. Because by the time you get through all of that, and I know people would probably differ with me on this, that there are enough margins of era and all the different inputs that the outputs aren’t necessarily that robust. And also it's time consuming. So, my thinking on this is that when you are, I quite like Brinkerhoff’s success case method, quite frankly, because that's actually looking at what worked really well and what didn't work so well. And let's fix our programme to skew it more towards the, you know, the stuff that worked really well. So that's much better as a fast, non-numerical way of improving what you're doing. And then you should be using business measures. And this is where the expectation, what are our expectations of business measure improvement given what we're doing? And that's, to me, that's a much better way to look at measurement. There's a whole lot of stuff in measurement. There's a whole chapter on it in the back of that green book. But I'm personally not a great fan of the ROI stuff when it is premised on the fact that we here as L&D are trying to prove our worth to the business. And I think that's kind of a mindset thing, is a lot of people say we have to have our ROI because we have to prove our value to the business. And I'm thinking, well hang on, that's kind of like setting yourself separate and saying, “I'm here, please pay my salary”. What you should be doing is saying, “How can we keep improving what we're doing for the business? And if we keep doing that well, the business will be happy to keep paying us”. It's just a slightly different mindset. But what it does do is it changes the way you harvest the data, the way you present it, the way you put dashboards up and all of that. And you tend to start focusing more on business improvement than just focusing on “here's the numbers that we crunch to prove that we're a valid input to the business”. It's a subtle difference, but I think it's really important. So that's just a little bit on that ROE and ROI stuff.


[Ilona Brannen]  57:45  

Brilliant! Thank you so much, Paul, for today's webinar. It's been really fascinating. And for everyone who attended, thank you very much for taking the time.




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