Why training is not a knowledge transfer tool

knowledge transfer tool

By on 07/12/2011

There is a myth in society and in business that if people don’t change then it is because they need to be educated. This leads to a lot of waste of time and money since training isn’t equal with knowledge transfer tool.

Most training courses and seminars do add something positive to the lives of the people that attend them. Even if the benefit is only meeting some new people, spending a few days away in a nice hotel or just getting a little inspiration and renewed interest in your professional field. However, if companies believe that a training course only can be used as a knowledge transfer tool that will lead to new competencies for being deployed at work and a great knowledge transfer between colleges then they are most often wrong.

Dr Robert Brinkerhoff conducted an effectiveness study of more than 1.000 educational programs. This showed that only 8-12 out of every 100 participants used insights from the program to create results in their organisations. So if organisations invest in training as a knowledge transfer tool to change work practices and improve knowledge transfer then they will fail in about 90% of the cases! This is an old study but is it not a paradox that so much money and time still is invested in off-site education and training when the business case is so poor?

The training and educational industry know this. They are therefore providing part-time courses, experimental approaches, blended learning techniques and so on. Many of these certainly lead to better results. Still, the challenge remains: Education alone isn’t a knowledge transfer tool to change behaviour.

Knowledge transfer dies when it is disembodied

If this statement by Tom Davenport holds true then most of the knowledge you receive and the knowledge transfer tools you gained from training is already dead when you arrive back at the office. Perhaps this is why we fail to deploy and pass it on to our colleges? We’re challenged with separating the knowledge transfer from the learning context and applying it in our own work context. For this, to happen, we need our learning experience to be very closely aligned with our daily work experience. How can a course with multiple participants create learning experiences that match each person’s daily context? It can not.

The answer to some companies has been to invest in e-learning as a knowledge transfer tool. We can then sit at home or at the office and receive training and get new knowledge. The trouble is that it is only contextual in the physical sense. Courses are often outdated and they even more remote from our daily work practice than what a good instructor can achieve. So, e-learning alone is not a knowledge transfer tool to receive and transfer knowledge.

Make your work your learning experience

One of the oldest and best knowledge transfer tools is Apprenticeships. For centuries master craftsmen have used this as a knowledge transfer tool to apprentices through on-the-job training. The apprentice can not only study what the master says but also see what he does. It is a very effective model for the knowledge transfer of the explicit and tacit knowledge required for someone to change behaviour. I think this method has worked because the learning experience and the work experience are one and the same. Knowledge is highly embodied with work.

What if we could recreate the old Apprenticeship model to the modern workplace? Rather than each one of is going off to attend a course for a week or two each year, then we could be more attentive to bringing reflection back into our work. Working closer with people we can learn from. Exchanging views with colleagues in similar roles within our own companies. E-learning courses and other offerings can then be placed in the work situations where we actively demand them.

We lose our ability to learn if we don’t practice every day. Conducting our own small trial and error experiments each day would not only enhance our personal development but may also be a better investment for the company… This might be a better knowledge transfer tool. So why not replace the course with a team building exercise so such day-to-day learning relationships are nurtured? You can still stay at a nice hotel and get a few days out of the office.

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