Transfer Happens When I Teach What I Just Learned!

Your learners have successfully finished a course or learning activity.  They have demonstrated their mastery of the content, skills or even behaviors in the educational environment (digital or face to face).  Now comes the important element – TRANSFER to the workplace.

The literature is filled with important processes that will help transfer, including managerial attention/engagement, practice opportunities and even remedial assets that will reinforce the learning objectives.

Let me add “Now, Teach it Someone Else” to the list of transfer tools. 

There is significant research, including 40 years of work by doctors David and Roger Johnson from the University of Minnesota, which highlights the importance of a learner taking their newly acquired knowledge and teaching it to someone else.

The learner may be confident or uncertain about their new content, but once they are asked to teach, an internal process of “cognitive rehearsal” and self-listening occurs.  The learner as teacher goes through these steps:

  • Restating the Knowledge in Their Words: Transfer requires the learner to make the new information their own.  When they have to explain a complicated theory to someone else, they will reduce, reframe and reword it to something that makes sense to themselves.
  • Listening to My Words Reinforces Understanding: The learner hears their own words as they explain things to others.  This listening is clarifying and will help them understand what they know clearly versus what gets “stuck” on the way out.
  • New Questions Surface as They Re-Teach: The learner understands or surfaces questions as they explain the content to another person.  Their own questions pop up as they explain it and they hear good questions from other people.
  • Steps are Reinforced: Learners often slice the complexity of the content into a simpler format.  But, in that process, key steps can be forgotten or ignored.  Re-teaching seems to increase a learner’s awareness of the complex aspects of the new information.
  • Emotional Framing: They may have learned a new process for safety procedures in a manufacturing environment. This process has both intellectual and emotional dimensions.  As the learner becomes the teacher, they may get in touch with a more personal dimension of the new behavior.
  • Sketching Counts: Often, a learner will draw or sketch a diagram as they re-teach.  These illustrations are quite powerful for helping the new learner integrate and transfer new content elements or processes.
  • Levels of Confidence Rise: The process of re-teaching can move a learner from “Unconsciously Competent” to “Consciously Competent”.

In elementary school classrooms, the concept of asking the students to learn and then re-teach is used very effectively.  The learners approach their learning differently when they know they will be asked to explain it to others.

This process is so important for TRANSFER as it creates an important post-learning experience that actually cements the new content into the learner as teacher in a key fashion.

The other aspect of re-teaching the content is that it can be leveraged into a new phase of course evaluation.  Asking a learner about the class is quite different once they have had to teach the content to another worker.  They can be asked questions such as the following:

  • Now that you have learned the content and taught it to someone else, what changes to the course structure would you suggest?
  • How do you rank the elements of the content according to your confidence in utilizing them and re-teaching them to others?
  • What language, vocabulary or concepts continue to be confusing or too complex for you?
  • What illustrations or job aids would have helped you implement the content or teach it to others in the workplace?
  • What Frequently Asked Questions would you suggest we add to the content, based on your questions and questions from others?

I truly and deeply believe in this process.  I design it into almost every LAB or Class that I facilitate. Try it and see how it works!  And, the learner can be asked to teach it to someone who already has the competency, as part of their process for gaining final readiness on the new content.  Learners as Teachers.  I like that!

Published in CLO Magazine, July-August 2017

America Learns - Imperatives for a New President

I am writing this article in October, 2016. It is aimed at the new President of the United States, who will take office on January 20, 2017. No matter who wins this long campaign, I would like to advocate that Learning (including Workplace Learning and Development) become a key imperative, challenge, and opportunity for the new Administration.

The new President will have a wide range of economic, foreign policy, and domestic issues. Many of them will be contentious and perhaps divided along partisan lines. It would be a delight for the new President to decide to make learning – in all dimensions – one of their signature initiatives.

Let’s explore some of the elements that the new President might include in their “America Learns” program that could be announced at the first State of the Union:

  • Make the United States a Learning Society and Culture! Let’s take the work of Peter Senge and others and apply it on a national level. Explore how every government agency and major corporation would endorse an aggressive Learning Society model in the same way we have looked at going towards a more “Green Society” with energy efficiencies. Imagine the ways in which we might evaluate each organization from the perspective of actively supporting learning activities and culture.
  • Create a National Skills Badging Collaborative! Let’s take “badging” from being the adult version of a “Scouts” Badge to being an accepted, validated, and embraced method for assessing and credentialing the skills of every citizen. In fact, let’s reach out to the Boy and Girl Scouts to help lead the way!
  • UpSkilling and Apprenticeships Radically Expanded! The country needs to build ladders for the vast number of currently employed, but not promotable, citizens in our country. Partnerships among employers, schools, religious institutions, and unions can create a new era of UpSkilling. And, we can build a national commitment to Apprenticeships that would provide pathways for reaching up to new jobs through the combination of learning and experiences, including new stretch assignments for full time workers.
  • Retirees Become Teachers and Mentors: We are retiring tens of thousands seniors who are active, healthy, curious, and who want to stay engaged in valuable work. Why not harness retirees as a force to become teachers, coaches, and mentors on every level - from K-12 to Higher Education to Workforce Learning?! Retirees are prime candidates to expand and enhance the learning resources of our country. Through the use of online video we can even leverage retirees from every retirement community across the land as coaches and homework supporters.
  • Teachers Learn About the Workplace: Our teachers at schools and colleges are the most powerful influencers on students who will enter the workforce in a few years; yet, many teachers have never been employees outside of the world of education. We should create opportunities for teachers to learn and experience the world of work more directly, perhaps during their summer breaks and in other formats.
  • Machine Learning and Adaptive/Responsive Learning Technology: We are on the brink of a significant leap forward in the ability of computer systems, particularly in the cloud, to continually and personally assist each learner with adaptive, responsive, and personalized support. America can take the lead in blending the best of Machine Learning with the power of great teaching, collaborative mentoring, and more.
  • Virtual Reality - Environments of Simulation and Development: Let’s crowdsource a project to radically increase the number of simulations that can be delivered with 4K resolution and immersive engagement across the wide landscape of jobs, roles, and skills. Learning is often driven by a person’s curiosity about a new set of competencies.
  • The President as a Learner: It would be very cool to have the new President sign up for an on-line course and provide feedback/witnessing to the reality of actual life-long learning.
  • Appoint a United States Chief Learning Officer Each Year: Reach out to corporate CLOs, University Faculty, School Teachers, and Administrators to find a U.S. CLO to serve at the White House, interacting with the President on policy and acting as a personal learning advocate.

So often, conversations about learning that happen in Washington, DC immediately turn into funding and revenue fights. However, the new President can approach “America Learns” as a true social and collaborative effort that might push the learning message and commitment as a theme for the coming four years of a new Administration. Yes, America Learns!

Published in CLO Magazine, January 2017

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