The Transfer of Learning from the Classroom to the Workplace: a New Zealand Case Study
The transfer of training and learning from the classroom to the workplace has been an area of interest to researchers in a number of different fields of study, including psychology (Baldwin & Ford, 1988; Collinson & Brook, 1997; Cormier & Hagman, 1987, McSherry & Taylor, 1994; Tracey, Tannenbaum & Kavanagh, 1995), education (Bereiter, 1995; Gass, 1989; Marini & Genereux, 1995) and management (Analoui, 1993; Broad & Newstrom, 1992; Garavaglia, 1993; Holton, 1996; McGraw, 1993; Xiao, 1996). Of particular interest have been the long-term effect training has once back in the workplace, the avoidance of the 'fade-out' effect and the identification of factors which facilitate transfer. Within the context of this research the focus has been on the management of the transfer process as it pertains to service management, and in particular case management services delivered by the Accident Rehabilitation and Compensation Insurance Corporation in New Zealand. The purpose of this research was to identify the factors, which facilitated the transfer of learning from an adult learning environment, using action learning methods of instruction, to the workplace. The research also sought to develop a model which optimises the transfer of learning from the classroom to the workplace for adult learners. The forty-seven participants in this research were graduates of the first three cohorts of students from the Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) Diploma in Rehabilitation Studies. A phenomenological paradigm was adopted, within which a longitudinal case study method linked with grounded theory was employed as the research methodology. The methods of data collection included semi-structured and unstructured, face-to-face and telephone interviews, as well as focus groups. The data collection took place at six monthly intervals post course - at twelve months, eighteen months and twenty-four months. By the third time interval the number of research participants had diminished to thirty-eight. The findings suggest that there was a relationship between the educational process adopted, the personal development of the participants and the desired organisational objective of improved service delivery. The transfer model which emerged from the data indicated that the educational process is the foundation upon which to build, if the transfer of learning back to the workplace is to be achieved. The role of the organisation in this process is also discussed. It is suggested that an experiential/action learning approach is the key component of the educational process, coupled with a combination of personal and professional development components. In addition, the use of a supervised work-based practicum following the university-based modules, appears to have facilitated the transfer process. The increase in confidence indicated by the participants is associated with the educational process and has subsequently enabled them to adopt case management practices, learned on the VUW Diploma in Rehabilitation Studies, as part of their daily personal practice as Case Managers. This in turn has been linked to the participants' perception of improved service delivery to their clients. The positive relationship between the various elements in the emergent transfer of learning model was strongest twelve months post course. Two further theoretical models are also presented - the Task/Setting/Risk Matrix and the Setting/Task/Risk/Competence model. The results of the ACC funded evaluation of the VUW Diploma in Rehabilitation Studies (Collinson & Brook, 1997) further strengthen the conclusions of this research. Their research focussed on both participant's and supervisor's perceptions of the transfer of training back to the corporate environment up to six months post course and made similar inferences to those made in this research. There are a number of managerial implications related to the conclusions of this research. These have been divided into those pertinent to general management, professional practice and educational providers. The key implications are summarised below: the importance of linking training to organisational strategic planning; the need for training to be regarded as a process involving all the key stakeholders of the organisation; the value of experiential and action learning to adult learners; the significance of combining personal and professional development opportunities in training programmes; the potential benefit to both the educational provider and the organisation; and finally that the transfer of training and learning should be regarded as an integral component of an organisation's service management strategy.