Mar 122012

Learning Transfer: Cool Stuff or Good Enough?

Learning Transfer: By Barbara Carnes, Ph.D., Carnes and Associates, Sticky Notes, 03/12/12

Today’s learning technologies are truly amazing.  What once took months of time to develop can now be created in days, even hours.  Rapid tools and easy-to-use templates make it easy for practically anyone to create a course today, whether it is a face-to-face class, live virtual training, e-learning, or a blend.

But do these efforts to “engage” the learner — animations, games, high-end video productions, multiple You Tube videos unrelated to the content –kittens, kids, and acrobatic feats, and simulations –do they really result in better learning and learning transfer?  Or are they “eye candy” that increases trainee satisfaction but do not really make the training more effective and useful?   And, does a dynamic delivery style lead to better learning and learning transfer? 

An interesting experiment was conducted in the 1970s.  A professional actor was hired to conduct a lecture for medical professionals.  His presentation was dynamic and convincing.  The audience was engaged.  The evaluations were very positive.  But what he was saying was nonsense!  This experiment is now known as the “Dr. Fox Effect.”

More recently, Cammy Bean has written about “clicky-clicky bling-bling”  – lots of click-here, animations, and “cool stuff” in e-learning designs.  She questions whether it adds value or whether it distracts the learner and may interfere with learning transfer and application.

Extensive research on training transfer has identified these practices related to training design that result in high level s of learning transfer:

  • Learning goals/objectives
  • Active learner participation
  • Relevant content (relevant for the skills being taught)
  • Behavior modeling
  • Error-based examples
  • Self-management strategies (such as action planning)
  • Link to organizational strategy/mission/business goals

Beyond these practices, the “wow factor” in training delivery does not add to the learning and in fact may interfere with it.  Psychologist Bruno Bettelheim introduced the concept of the “good enough parent”  in his book by the same name.  His contention was that a parent doesn’t need to do all the right things, just enough of them to provide a stable environment for the child.

A “good enough” training design – and trainer – does not need to include a “broadcast quality” delivery style or a lot of clicky-clicky bling-bling design elements.   “Good enough” training includes the elements listed above, that have been proven to strengthen learning and increase learning transfer.  It just needs to be good enough to produce the desired results in the learners so they will complete the course and use what they learn.  A “good enough” design includes some “bells,” “whistles”, and “sparkle” to keep learners engaged, but does not include extraneous “glitter” that does not serve a purpose.

So be careful that those animations, games, and click-here, click-there, click-everywhere features that make people say “cool” and “wow” and “check this out” fit in the context of a good instructional design, and that the content supports the objectives.   And be careful with hiring that big name presenter with a dynamic presentation style.  Such attempts to force “engagement” are no assurance that trainees will learn and use the material.

Until next time….

P.S. Follow me on Twitter: @StickyTraining


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learning transfer, McDonald Sales and Marketing, LLC