digital learning

Do you actively support learning transfer?

Published by Tony Small

9 October, 2022

It is often believed that eLearning programmes are less effective than face-to-face learning methods, and the effectiveness of digital learning initiatives in general is regularly questioned and criticised.


Enhancing the design, interaction, and media components of the material has typically been the focus of eLearning improvement. These efforts have undoubtedly resulted in the development of far better eLearning products in terms of their look, feel, and learner experience, but they have not yet provided the necessary rise in learning efficacy.


Maybe the problem is that we are not effectively addressing some important pedagogical issues because our attention is off-balance.


Let's simply take a moment to review what the word "pedagogy" means. As educators, we've all undoubtedly heard the term, but maybe not fully understood what it means. The theory and practise of learning, as well as how this process affects and is influenced by the social, political, and psychological growth of learners, are all parts of pedagogy.


In order to think about the learning process holistically, pedagogy is a key notion. This is made obvious in the final clause of the definition, which acknowledges that learning occurs in a social, political, and psychological (think lowercase "p") environment, all of which are internal to the learner.


The transfer of learning from the learning environment to other environments, such as the workplace, is necessary for learning to be effective. To return to the earlier discussion of learning efficacy, a crucial component of education is the social, political, and psychological aspects in the process of learning transfer.


I contend that the process of learning transfer should be our primary focus when addressing the low efficacy of eLearning programmes, more so than any other component of the learning paradigm. In addition to the learner's own willpower and determination, learning transfer requires a lot of work that is unrelated to the actual design of an eLearning module. It also, and perhaps most importantly, requires the encouragement and support of others, including L&D teams, co-learners, and the organisation.


What is the greatest way for us to accomplish this? Recently, I came across a piece of scholarly writing on the subject that, unexpectedly for such articles (in my experience), offered some straightforward, helpful advice: Roumell EA. Priming Adult Learners for Learning Transfer: Beyond Content and Delivery. Adult Learning. 2019;30(1):15-22. doi:10.1177/1045159518791281.


According to Roumell, there are seven prerequisites for meaningful change in adults, including (a) reasoning, (b) seeking new knowledge, (c) resonance and personal identification with the idea, (d) finding novel and varied ways to present/describe/understand the new idea, (e) resources and rewards for motivation, (f) relevance to real-world context, and (g) getting past personal obstacles.

Furthermore, these seven ‘levers to change’ can b grouped into three practice areas:

  1. Individual commitment (purpose + motivation + pathway)
    (reasoning, resonance, and identifying one’s resistance to learning)
  2. Intentional, reflective application during instruction
    (seeking solutions, varied applications, relevance)
  3. Organisational mirroring and owning the learning
    (reflection, resistances, resources, rewards)

In the design of their learner journeys, educators can address these three crucial activities in a variety of useful ways, according to Roumell.


1- Assisting others in recognising and communicating their commitment to learning (purpose + motivation + pathway). Giving students the responsibility of formulating and expressing (preferably verbally) their learning objectives is key in this situation. The act of communicating itself aids the transformational process psychologically. Even better if the learner can describe their own reluctance to change and how they could overcome it.


For example: 


I will learn and use new social media teaching tactics because I'm committed to encouraging improved student interactions in my online classroom. By August, I'll be able to use course support software in my online classes.


Being knowledgeable about new technology is vital to me since I'm dedicated to being an excellent educator. I'm open to experimenting with new approaches of connecting with my online students, despite the fact that mastering new technologies can be challenging and time-consuming.

2- Helping people demonstrate how they will apply the broad concepts they have learned in the real world by helping them abstract those concepts. In a process of writing and/or verbalising how they would behave through case studies or stories, the learner must take the lead role. Learners are able to recognise and accept the shifting social expectations and behaviours that will be expected of them along this process.


3- Assisting people to reflect on and own the learning process. Students require a secure "holding space" where they can break free from their ingrained routines and renegotiate how they will behave when using their new knowledge, abilities, and worldviews. When their environment gives them ample room to practise and grow, and when it reflects those changes back to them, people are better able to transfer mindfulness. By establishing such a holding environment, knowledge and skills can be more easily internalised, transferred, socially reinforced, and integrated.

Bringing everyone back together into a group after they've had a chance to use some of their new information and skills independently is the greatest way to make this activity social. Individuals are welcome to contribute specific elements of their learning experience and developed solutions at this step of helping the transfer process. This makes room for students to analyse their experiences as a group and reflect the transformation process back to one another.


In order to provide a seamless learner journey through to the point of learning transfer, various procedures and activities typically need to be "wrapped around" the primary digital learning activity(s), such as eLearning. Whether it is a physical classroom or an online one, we must keep in mind that not everything takes place in the "classroom." Our learning initiatives, whether digital or not, would likely be more successful if we paid closer attention to the entirety of a learner journey from where it really starts—commitment to begin a learning activity—and where it ends—applying the learning in the real world. The difficulty with digital learning is that you must be much more explicit and exacting about making sure that these processes are properly addressed. There is very little chance that they will be inadvertently addressed, which may be more of a problem in more face-to-face programmes where people engage more socially and indiscriminately as part of their learning journey.