Brain Date* on Learning Transfer: The Missing Link to Learning

Guest post from Corinne Brion, a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of San Diego. Corinne completed her doctoral research in West Africa and has spent this year assisting with trainings for school leaders in five sub-Saharan nations.

 IMG_4053Corinne Brion

  For the past five years, I’ve been fortunate to be part of a research and training team working with school leaders in Low-Fee Private Schools (LFPSs) in Francophone and Anglophone Africa. We have been tasked to help design contextually appropriate leadership materials, train local school leaders and train trainers (TOT) to ensure the sustainability of the model. Lastly, we have conducted research in Burkinabe and Ghanaian schools.

As you can imagine, I have many stories to tell and countless adventures  to share from various trips to Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia, Rwanda and Ethiopia. For now, though, I would like to share what I’ve learned from these school leaders related to the concept of learning transfer. Here I present the main findings of a research study that took place in 2016 in Burkina Faso and Ghana. The study aimed at understanding what enhanced and hindered learning transfer among these school leaders  (Brion & Cordeiro 2017). Thirteen school leaders from six different schools were interviewed after they attended a three-day leadership training. For this project, I worked with 2 different educational systems and two different national languages.

First, let’s be clear on what learning transfer is. It is defined as the application of newly acquired knowledge to the workplace or home. And, why should we pay attention to learning transfer? First, we should be attuned to this because every year billions of dollars are spent on trainings, workshops or meetings and only 10% of the new knowledge gets transferred to the work place (Broad & Newstrom, 1997). In Africa alone, $921 million were spent on education between 2010-2012, and despite the monies invested, there is little evidence of improved student learning outcomes (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 2015). This illustrates, in part, the lack of understanding and focus that governments, policy makers, educators, facilitators and trainers have placed on training and learning transfer (Awoniyi et al., 2002; Ford, 1994). Oftentimes programs are not adapted to the participants’ needs and do not take into account how adults best learn (Knowles, 1980; Mezirow, 2000).

A second reason we need to pay attention to learning transfer is because it is urgent that we build the capacity of school leaders in marginalized communities and sustain quality educational leadership in order to get a return on our investments in professional development.

From this study, I learned that there were several factors that supported the transfer of learning. In both countries, these factors included the location and logistics of the training, the facilitator’s content knowledge and disposition, the adequate content of the training and the active andragogy used. In Burkina Faso, the certificate of completion presented to all participants at the end of the training as well as the testimonials given by an alumnus seemed to have supported the transfer of learning as well. When given a certificate of completion and hearing testimonials, participants perceived that they were more competent, felt confident, and were motivated to transfer the new learning to their schools. But let me stop here and give you an opportunity to view the photos below, evidencing that learning transfer did occur post training.


I also found key challenges to learning transfer. The inhibitors in both countries were not only financial but also associated with (a) human behavior (referring to the difficulties in changing mind sets and habits and the fact that it is easier to paint a wall than changing a hiring process or diet), (b) competition (between schools and within the schools between younger and veteran leaders), (c) culture (the practice of juju, a witchcraft), and (d) logistics (leaders from one school in Ghana referred to the scheduling of the training as being an issue as the training took place while the school was still in session).

This study could have a significant impact on schools in marginalized communities since school leaders play a pivotal role in the overall success of the schools and student learning outcomes. The study is significant for any non-profit organization, government agency, or organization whose goal is to assist educational growth in developing countries. Applying learning transfer concepts and following up on them would not only ensure that training funds are well spent, but also contribute to reaching Goal Number 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals “Providing a Quality Education for All” by 2030.

So, next time you plan a training, workshop or even a meeting, take into account learning transfer! If you are sharing this mindset, let’s have a Brain Date!

*The term brain date is used as a way to foster conversations and reflections among like-minded educators and educational leaders.
Awoniyi, E. A., Griego, O. V., & Morgan, G. A. (2002). Person-environment fit and transfer of training. International Journal of Training and Development6(1), 25-35.
Broad, M. L., & Newstrom, J. W. (1992). Transfer of training: Action-packed strategies to ensure high payoff from training investments. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press.
 Ford, J. K. (1994). Defining transfer of learning: The meaning is in the answers. Adult       Learning5(4), 22-30.
  Knowles, M. (1980). My farewell address . . . Andragogy no panacea, no ideology. Training and Development Journal34(8), 48-50.
Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. Indianapolis, IN: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2015). Education for all 2000-2015: Achievements and challenges (EFA Global Monitoring Report). Paris, France: UNESCO.

Meet Dr. Brion

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