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What can go wrong during knowledge transfer and how to avoid that

A version of this post was originally published on October 24, 2019 in Training Magazine.

A successful training program is one that delivers the right piece of information in the right format to the right employee at the right time so that said employee can apply the newly acquired knowledge in the right real life business setting. This leads to better employee performance which in turn leads to better business results.

But there are quite a few “right”s in that first sentence. L&D professionals know there are very many variables — some that are controllable, others that are simply not — that can negatively affect the success rate of any training program.

Transferring knowledge from any training material to any trainee is complicated. Add to that the fact that knowledge transfer can happen between employees in informal situations, not just from formal training courses to each participant, and a steeplechase at the Olympics seems like a piece of cake compared to creating and delivering a successful training program.

What can go wrong during knowledge transfer and how to avoid that

Understanding what can go wrong along the way is the first step in avoiding or overcoming any potential roadblock. So let's explore a few of the most common things that can prevent knowledge transfer from happening during a training program, as well as the available means of solving each problem.

The physical and mental state of employees

This can be the best ally to knowledge transfer or its worst headsman. The thing is, how someone feels during the learning process greatly impact their capacity of acquiring new information. Hunger, headaches, other types of physical pain, the common cold, depression, stress over a loved one are just a few examples of things that hinder a person’s ability to remember what they learn.

Read more: Exploring the link between quality of sleep and personal excellence

Since the physical and mental wellbeing of employees is one of the most unpredictable factors that can negatively affect learning and knowledge transfer, training professionals don't have that many options in overcoming this. However, creating and maintaining a safe learning environment where people are allowed to make mistakes is a good first step.

Lost focus

People lose focus easier than we care to admit. The infamous Microsoft report stating that even the goldfish stands better than humans regarding attention span does not help. People can focus for more than a few seconds actually, with intense focus stretching for up to 20 minutes. But reaching this state of intense focus can be incredibly hard in the distraction riddled workplace of today.

With all this in mind L&D people can turn to a variety of tactics to help employees be focused while learning and remain knowledgeable. For example, to employ bite-sized learning modules instead of longer ones. Each such module should have a clear learning objective and some corresponding resources. All training modules in a course should have a clear structure and learners should be able to easily navigate between them. Also gamification techniques and other interactive elements should be included within the course to make the content as engaging as possible.

Making training a one time hit

Training is a continuous process. If people don't practice what they learn over time they will forget it. Knowledge transfer is a series of events, not just one event. Moving information from the short-term memory to long-term memory is not a simple trajectory as it may seem. The forgetting curve affects everyone.

Instructional designers can fight the forgetting curve by adopting the spaced repetition technique in the course content. Repetitio mater studiorum est, after all. While including the same important piece of information in more than one place during the course is a great start, there is one more thing L&D professionals can do to increase the chances of knowledge transfer to happen: post-training activities. These will help employees to better remember what they learned and better apply that knowledge in real life business situations.

Faulty technology

Love it or hate it, technology is here to stay, as its advantages clearly overcome its drawbacks. However, problems do arise because of faulty technology, from broken hardware to bad internet connections to not the best software. Considering the rise of the knowledge economy, the mobile employee and remote work, the good functioning of a business — not just the delivery of a training program — relies heavily on technology.

Read more: Things to consider when designing training to upskill remote workers

Even though they can't control everything that can go wrong, there are some things L&D professionals can do to ensure the least amount of tech-related problems occur. The most important of all is choosing the best training software — a acloud-based business LMS with a comprehensive set of features, that runs automatic backups and provides a secure connection at all times. If employees can't access training materials, learning can’t possibly happen. And knowledge transfer? Even less so.

All in all

Even though there are many factors that can negatively affect knowledge transfer, training professionals can overcome all of them — to some extent, at least, if not completely — by employing the right tactics.