Ensuring the Transfer of Learning

Image courtesy of Flickr/Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

Mentoring does not end with advice, feedback and instruction. The goal of mentoring is not simply learning. The goal of mentoring is to foster betterment, greater productivity and higher effectiveness.

There is merit in learning for learning’s sake. But in business today, learning must be for result’s sake. Mentors don’t have the luxury of helping protégés increase their knowledge but not their use of that knowledge.

Transfer of learning has been the challenge for all learning facilitators. The argument often posited: “Once they leave my tutelage, it’s up to them to put it to use.” Great mentors know that the experiment isn’t over until the learner has tried it in real life. 

There are all sorts of actions that helpensure that what is learned in the relationship actually “takes.” 

Lend a helping hand. The key word is fellowship, a word that combines the constitution of a partnership with the warmth of camaraderie. Look for ways to “be there” when your protégé has “opening night.” Remember that rehearsal is always a far cry from actual performance.

When your protégé is slated to engage in her or his first attempt at “flying solo,” send your good wishes and affirmation. Call after to learn the outcome. Regardless of the success or failure, be supportive. 

If you can actually be there, assume the role of cheerleader, not sideline coach. Let your protégé know you are there, feeling excited and confident. But avoid the grandstanding of the doting parent eagerly letting everyone in the stands know, “That’s my kid!” 

Be vigilant for obstacles to learning. The late Geary Rummler was fond of saying, “You can take highly motivated, well-trained employees, put them in a lousy system, and the system will win every time.” 

Effective learning results can becomeineffective performance results if the protégé enters a system, process or unit that punishes — or simply does not encourage — the newly acquired skills. A crucial part of your role is to be vigilant for obstacles that undermine the learning acquired through your mentoring.

Think of your protégé’s learning as a new tree. In time, the tree will have deep roots. But as a sapling, it’s vulnerable. It must be supported, protected and cared for until it can fend for itself.

This takes time and patience. In the words of an old adage, “You don’t need to pull the tree up by the roots every five minutes to see if it’s still growing and traumatize it.” So it is with a protégé. As a novice, he is still learning and his new skills are unstable.

Advocate for informal learning. Being a great mentor includes fostering an environment that values learning. This means advocating informal learning. There are myriad ways to make learning a natural part of the work world. 

A consulting firm found that professional reading among employees increased when the firm installed magazine racks with professional journals in the lavatories. The firm’s president discovered that surprisingly few journals were absent-mindedlyremoved, and employees began contributing their own copies of journals to which the firm did not subscribe. 

Comments like “Did you read that article about …” were frequently interjected in staff meetings, which further reinforced the amount of informal learning through journal reading. 

Ultimately, learning that ends when the protégé bids adieu to the mentor isretained only until the protégé reaches the elevator. Given the shaky tentativeness of new learning, it’s up to the mentor to come up with ways to help shelter, support and nurture it until it takes. 

Knowing how to eliminate barriers to buttress the learner until habits arecemented can go a long way to help the learning-transfer process for your protégé.