Can mobile Apps enhance transfer of learning between the classroom & the workplace?

 

In 2016 we created Into-practice, a bespoke mobile app designed specifically to encourage learning transfer, the translation of learned knowledge into real life practice. To date the use of a mobile app to support learning transfer is unique, so what follows is a collection of key learnings from the research project which will be helpful for others seeking methods for enhancing learning transfer. 

Added on 10 February 2017 by Grace Brown

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Spending in the United Kingdom on learning and development (L&D) initiatives increased by 11% between 2014 and 2015 to an average of £1,068 per learner as organizations invested more to help develop future leaders and close skills gaps1.

Despite the healthy investment, estimates of the extent to which this learning is transferred into improved job performance ranges from 10%2 to approximately 50%with a “significant number of studies raising concerns about the level of transfer of learning across executive education programs.4

L&D professionals have begun to focus on evaluating the success of training in an effort to demonstrate trainings’ direct contribution to their bottom line.

In 2016 we created Into-practice, a bespoke mobile app designed specifically to encourage learning transfer, the translation of learned knowledge into real life practice. Into-practice operates using gamification principles where answering questions unlocks rewards in the form of useful articles and tips. Questions were based on the common barriers to and the catalysts of learning application and aimed to gain insight into the participants’ experience of their training, and of the job context to which they returned. Over a 12-week period Into-practice asked questions like, “Which model from the program has been most useful?”, “Have you felt more confident tackling unfamiliar tasks?” and “Have you felt supported to apply your learning?”.

Visual examples of the Into-Practice App

 

To date the use of a mobile app to support learning transfer is unique, so what follows is a collection of key learnings from the project which will be helpful for others seeking methods for enhancing learning transfer.

Capturing evidence of Transfer

One of the questions asked by Into-practice each week was, “Have you managed to apply your learning this week?” Results from data collected by the app showed signs of high self-reported learning transfer.

  • Sharing what they had learned with team members and managers; “Chance to share with manager and my team about some key learnings from the session” this is evidence of impact being reported back to the client organization.  
  • Reflecting on learning. “Have thought about key influencing tools when approaching conversations” “I have reflected over the weekend and will be applying the learning from Monday.”
  • Practical behavioral changes “I have booked meeting rooms for 1-2-1 meetings to avoid distraction” “taking more care of my appearance” “standing firmly on two feet and breathing” “My approach at work has changed in a way where I try to influence others by changing my own appearance and offer my help rather than being more directive.”
  • Personal feelings “I feel more self-confident which helps a lot.”
  • Using specific course elements “Used one of the models from training in a senior team meeting to discuss how we best create more of our own recurring income, asking what can we eliminate, reduce, grow, do new while trying to stick to answering yes and ...rather than yes but… Challenging but the framework helped.”

The data gives an insight into what people are actually doing post training course - they are applying learning in diverse ways.  It became apparent that learning was drawn on particularly in overcoming difficult situations as the following feedback demonstrates: “Lacked confidence prior to course to challenge senior team member. This has significantly impacted budget and resulted in high overspend. Course given me confidence to manage these discussions earlier and better understanding of importance of avoiding overspend -Impact on profitability.”

Many who had applied learning mentioned positive results: “Delivered a presentation on a project I was managing. Was able to use SDI and learning styles results (psychometric questionnaires) to bring the best out of my team for the presentation and it was a success as a result”.

By collecting these tangible (albeit self-reported) instances of impact, Into-practice can provide clients with proof of return on their investment and provides training course designers with feedback on course content. 

Enhancing Transfer

We can safely say that as a data collection method the app is helpful to course designers and faculty when identifying the most useful teaching material, and also to clients wanting to demonstrate their ROI. Yet the key question this research sought to answer was: “Does mobile learning enhance participants’ transfer of learning between the classroom and their workplace?” Put another way, is Into-practice beneficial to the participants’ learning transfer? All participants had good intentions and many exhibited successful learning transfer, but was the app encouraging this or is it simply a means of communicating what individuals would have done anyway? A survey to evaluate the app gave some indication of the answer to this question:

Positive comments related to the convenient nature of having Into-practice on a mobile “I find it useful, as I have put it on my first page and use it when having lunch or a coffee break” “I really like having the app at my fingertips, great way of getting bite size chunks”. This kind of reflection and engagement would be unlikely if not in the form of a mobile app.

There was evidence that the app itself had facilitated learning transfer: “It helped me consolidate in my mind what I had learned alongside how I was/am using my learning."

Some suggestions for improvement included: “Would be ideal to have a check list of key areas from the management development course.” This echoes participants’ hopes for discipline to apply learning and personalization of follow-up.

Key takeaways from this research

There are indications that Into-practice can facilitate learning transfer. For this to be successful budding app designers should bear the following points in mind:

  • Ensure that initial contact with the app is engaging and useful - if an app does not attract users on first contact it is unlikely to be used further
  • Enable users to personalize timing of alerts -  particularly for international groups with different time zones
  • Make the app relevant to the training program - Into-practice sent generic questions to participants on different programs. For higher engagement and better transfer, it would be better to tailor app prompts and questions to a specific training program
  • Keep it simple - in terms of navigation and content
  • Provide reflection opportunities - Into-practice worked well by prompting users to reflect on their learning and performance using questions like “Have you been able to apply your learning this week?”
  • Gain the support of the client organization - if they recognize the potential and value of Into-practice, it will encourage user engagement and commitment, and overcome any technical issues with organization-owned mobile phones
  • Encourage learner discipline - having the app deliver tips on skills to practice during the day such as ‘Today try to improve your coaching skills by asking coachees for feedback’ will support usage or offer a checklist of tasks so that users can track their own progress
  • Include links to additional useful information
  • Provide opportunities for user networking - the ability to view each other’s progress will spur them on with their own

1 Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Georgenson 1982

Saks and Belcourt 2006

 4 e.g. Baldwin & Ford, 1988; Burke & Hutchins, 2007, Cheng & Hampson, 2008


If you would like to talk to us about your views on the answers to these questions, we would love to hear from you.  Do get in touch research@ashridge.hult.edu