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How can we increase the transfer of training of Community Life Competence?

A topic I have been interested in for a while is the 'transfer of training' by new learners. Both in development and the private sector this is a very relevant issue. Why do we sometimes train a group of people, but only 40% applies it regularly, some apply is sporadically in their work etc. To analyse this we can look at Transfer of Training concepts. Research shows that: “Left to chance, the likelihood that significant transfer will occur from most learning initiatives is truly very small. The solution to the transfer problem lies NOT in a radical increase in systems, people or organizational infrastructure.Transfer interventions will be most successful where the explicit goal is performance improvement”.

Generally, this transfer of training rate is 10%, which means only 10% of learning transfers into job performance, or in our case application of the approach. Feedback I often hear is that work is becoming more and CLCP is an extra burden. People think it’s interesting, but do they think it directly improves their job performance? How can we better show the link to performance improvement when transferring the approach? 

I think we need to more consciously decrease what they call Transfer distance, which refers to the gap between the learning environment and application in the job environment. There are 6 nodes with underlined the application to CLCP transfer:

1.Acquiring cognitive knowledge or “know that.”
 Learning the concepts of CLCP. 
2.Acquiring knowledge for how to use the learning, or “know how.”
 Learning the steps to facilitate the CLCP. 
3.Building performance capability through practice.
 Practice during learning events in the field. 
4.‘Near transfer’, that is the application of learned material to the learners’ immediate job and for the tasks at which the learning was targeted.
 Trying out the new approach in a session a few weeks after the training. 
5.Repeating and maintaining learned performance.
 Learner continues to facilitate on a regular basis and the skills become more natural as success is experienced. 
6.The pinnacle of transfer, the generalization of learning for application to tasks or jobs not originally anticipated by the training, but related in a way that allows the learning effects to multiply.
 Learner builds on the principles of the approach to create more applications and results. 

In DRC, we will first do SALT visits to choose the right people in the room, so transfer distance is reduced to allow for node 4 to happen. In Guyana, they are trying to include it in TORs of people so node 4 and 5 are made easier. We also attempt to involve the bosses of new facilitators to create an environment for node 5 and 6 to happen. What else can we do to decrease transfer distance?

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This is an issue that I've lived with for a long time. I've felt the pressures of implementing a new system or process brought from outside into the organisation. I've also lived with the challenges of persuading the organisation to implement new ideas or processes (mine!).

In my own business, the time pressures I faced were probably not much different from the ones the Constellation faces. I would say that the financial issues were usually very different. So perhaps the question for you (us) is 'is there a way that we can adopt what I learned into our approach?'

My solution was to disappear the problem. I never introduced a named process. I never had SALT. I never has an AIDS Competence Process. I never talked about Knowledge Assets. My ambition was to introduce my approach into the organisation almost by osmosis. So the methodology was adopted into the organisation and became their methodology. This meant that I could 'own' no intellectual property. It meant that I saw my thinking taken without so much as a thank you. But when it worked it was successful. And when it was successful, the businesses understood precisely what was happening.

It is almost as if once you apply a name to something (AAR, SALT), for the new user it sits separately from the things that they normally do and is an extra burden. If you can 'sell' the idea (learning from your experiences, appreciating strengths) that can be picked up and owned with much less of a problem.

Does that open up any possibilities?

Hi friends,

One thing that seemed interesting in Guyana was the practice of facilitation in the organisations that are participating. So, instead of visiting a community, we go and practice SALT and self-assessment in the participating organisations.

We could also spend more time at the end of a learning event to discuss how SALT/CLCP can be integrated in each organisation.

Having the head of organisations on board is also an important element. So, making sure that they are involved and supporting the process within the organisation.

In general it is interesting to go for exploratory visits before we dive into a full learning process. During these exploratory visits we can, like Gaston mentioned, identify those organisations that directly work with communities and those people who are natural facilitators.

Longer learning events with a lot of practice in the field. For instance, we could have a divers set of contexts in which we apply SALT/CLCP. So, not only go to communities, but also show that it can work on your office, in government context, in target communities, geographical communities, at home. Give participants assignments to practice SALT in their families (that's what they do in DRC). Then next day, they come back on share how it went.

Hey Gaston!

Greetings from Swaziland! Great question. Really useful, and already interesting responses from Laurence and Phil.

A few rushed, random thoughts from me, not yet fully formed, but open to comment:

1. Learning increases (or rather the rate and quality of learning) in an enabling environment - ie. where the working culture is one of learning. So, the more people get used to learning, and adopt it as behaviour, the easier it is to learn. In our work recently with Cordaid partners, it would seem from these organisations with a focus on advocacy (which incorporate consultation and research and field-visits and generating evidence, etc.) are more inclined to adapt their response, and be open to new approaches, because they are geared towards learning.

2. I think that practise is essential. Knowledge is honed and distilled into principles through careful application and reflection.

3. The stimulus of others (a practising, learning community) boosts transfer. And so, I think, the principles of mentoring and accompaniment (as opposed to cascade training of trainer approaches) are invaluable.

In a CLC-type learning event, especially the first stage, I try as much as possible to get more than one SALT visit built in over the course of a few days. The first time is great for exposure, but people can feel unresolved or uncertain about the practise and the deeper benefits. I've found that the second visit is a good consolidator. People know what to look for, and feel more confident to enter into the deeper experience. I guess this is linked to the first three nodes.

I'll be really interested to see what others think.

A response from Chris Burman from the University of Limpopo in South Africa.

Let me have a think. My kneejerk reaction is:

• We are aware of this;
• We try and profile the organisation prior to training any of there people;
• We try and recruit at least two people from any organisation to build momentum within the org;
• We offer follow up mentoring / support;
• We try and infuse our training with as many unfamiliar training techniques so that people do not switch off;
• We expect that some orgs will not implement;

Interesting stats though -

With kind regards


Chris Burman (PhD)
The Development Facilitation and Training Institute (DevFTI)
University of Limpopo
Hi all, and thanks Laurence for alerting me to this conversation!

I guess this is really a question of how learning occurs. There are obviously many factors involved, but I think one key starting point is that no real learning can occur until the learner becomes aware of a creative tension. That is, he/she becomes aware of the gap between the current reality and a desired reality. Whether that gap is interpreted in a judgmental way (It should be like this) or in an appreciative way (It could be like this) depends on one's world view and habits of mind, but the relevant point is that there is tension.

It is the awareness of such creative tension that breaks through the circular process of routine and habit, in which no real learning can occur. I would therefore say that in the lifecycle of learning, there is a pre-learning phase that deals with identifying learning potential, or creative tension, as well as supporting the process by which potential learners become (more) aware of the creative tensions that are already present, but that they may not be consciously aware of (yet). Examples of this would include assessments and generative interviews.

Once you've established 1) that there exists creative tension, and 2) what the nature of the tension is, then you can proceed to initiate and design the learning experience. This means that there may also be instances where you establish that there is no (relevant) creative tension (at this time), and therefore that there is no need for, or even possibility of, learning about other ways of being and doing.

Only when you do establish that there is creative tension, and that you are in a position to support people in addressing this tension, are you ready to rock 'n roll! I think you are well aware of all the factors that influence and foster learning, such as accommodating different learning styles, connecting hearts and minds, creating an enabling environment, cultivating a culture of trust and safety, and visualizing and practicing new behaviors, to name a few. In the lifecycle of learning I mentioned earlier, this is the actual learning experience. In addition to the pre-learning phase, I think it's worthwhile to think about the post-learning phase.

Once a learning experience has occurred (in alignment with real creative tension, otherwise there's no real learning), the new ways of being and doing need to be consolidated. In this regard, it is critical to distinguish between states and stages. A learning experience is basically a peak experience of a certain new way of being and doing. These experiences can be quite profound, but being experiences, they are by definition temporary. A stage, by contrast, refers to a stable structure within which experience is interpreted (a mental model, for example). States are temporary, while stages develop stably over time.

So how do you consolidate a peak learning experience (a state) into long-term stable stage development (i.e. how do you foster transfer of training, as you called it Gaston)? Here's a few things that spring to mind in terms of post-training consolidation of learning:
- Practice (which helps you build new habits)
- Self-reflection, e.g. through journalling (which helps you take as object what was previously subject to you, and therefore to see what previously you couldn't see)
- Dialogue, e.g. through building communities of practice (in which people who share a practice, spend time reflecting on it together in order to understand it more thoroughly and to learn about it together)
- Scientific inquiry, in which you test hypotheses and perform learning experiments in order to better understand what it is that you are doing

The two key things in decreasing transfer distance, I think, are 1) practice (obviously), and 2) community.

Well, that was my off-the-bat rant, hope it helps,

Thank you Diederick for this interesting contribution. Related to your pre-learning phase, it's important to select those people, through assessments or interviews, that are aware of a creative tension and its nature for themselves so that they are fully open to the learning experience right? Ideally the nature of their perceived tension is in line with our learning objectives for a process. Then you fully respond to learners need to address the creative tension.

So should we avoid to have people in the room that are not aware of any tension and think they are doing absolutely fine in the way they do their work (so that do not see a creative tension)? They might say after the learning process: 'That was interesting', but the pattern of routine and habit will prevent them from true transfer? Or should we dedicate the first stage of a learning process to stimulate reflection on these creative tensions? So that each person gets the time and space to reflect upon this. Only then minds will open for the learning.

What do you think?
Ideally you'd want to work with the principle of attraction, where you send out a very clear invitation and then you work with whoever shows up, trusting that they showed up for the right reasons (i.e. alignment between the purpose of your training and the creative tension they're consciously or unconsciously aware of). Whenever possible I try to be quite clear that I only want to work with people who want to, not people who have been sent there. It makes a huge difference, because the people that aren't open to learning (no tension) are obviously not going to learn anything fundamentally, and they're going to drag the rest of the group down intentionally or unintentionally, which is even worse! They end up being an 'energy leak' for the group you're working with, which you really want to avoid if at all possible. Of course sometimes it's not, so in those cases it helps if you can do some work to help them (and everyone else) become more aware of their creative tensions - because they're always there, if only we're willing to become aware of them!

I also thought of another important factor in supporting learning after the training took place: developing the context within which people are operating. In organizations, what often happens is that people get out of the office for a training that may give them a peak experience, but then the day after they go back into the old structure which drags them down and atrophies their learning experience. So in addition to developing individuals, you need to be aware of the organizational dimension - how the processes, policies, structures and systems of an organization or community are either limiting or enabling desired behaviors...

Hope that helps! Fascinating question which I think lots of us are struggling with in one way or another, be it personally or professionally...
Thanks Diederick. I agree that the environment can certainly help, but I like the statement as well: The solution to the transfer problem lies NOT in a radical increase in systems, people or organizational infrastructure.Transfer interventions will be most successful where the explicit goal is performance improvement”.

If the learner recognizes how it can increase his/ her own performance, a radical change in systems might not be a prerequisite, though certainly still important to further catalyse the transfer.

Would it be worth to dedicate a session of a learning process to: 'How can this learning improve your performance and work? This will be individual work, but investing time in this will increase transfer of training I think.
Gaston, thank you for this insightful thinking and thoughts,

It addresses my fears linked to Learning and systematic application; and on how to facilitate the learning to bring inspiration among the learners with anticipation to drastically reconnect with their home environment and to figure out how to embed the learning before they board buses or planes to get home.

We had a similar encounter in Last 2 weeks during a SALT visit hosted by Aga Khan University Hospital.

I have also noted that, people would also want to stay connected post training for motivation and ongoing engagement that helps to build confidence to keep going and Competence for quality application.

I attach the detailed report here with for reference.



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