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

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