Facilitate learning transfer in program planning

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Introduction

Caffarella (2002) has developed a model that explicitly incorporates strategies that can be used to facilitate learning transfer in program planning. Caffarella sees planning as a dynamic process that can be influenced by factors such as organizations, ethics, politics, and social issues; consequently, her interactive program planning model is non-linear, which means that there is no clear place to start or end in the planning process. She explains that its flexibility enables planners to only use the parts of the model that fit with their program and to use them in whatever order or combination they feel is appropriate.

Caffarella's (2002) model of program planning is consistent with Knowles' (1980) andragogical principles, because this model recognizes that adults come to educational programs with a wealth of knowledge and experience, and the learning experience is strengthened when it acknowledges and expands on the learners' previous experience. It also acknowledges that adults are motivated both internally and externally, not all adults learn and process information the same way, and for adults to engage in the learning process the learning must be meaningful to them. Caffarella considers the physical and psychological comfort of the learning environment. She also acknowledges that each learner approaches learning experiences with personal objectives that might not be in line with those of the program.

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Caffarella's (2002) model involves 12 components, each of which has its own set of decisions to be made and tasks to be completed. These components include: discerning the context; building a solid base of support; identifying program ideas; sorting and prioritizing program ideas; developing program objectives; designing instructional plans; devising transfer-of-learning plans; formulating evaluation plans; making recommendations and communicating results; selecting formats, schedules, and staff needs; preparing budgets and marketing plans; [and] coordinating facilities and on-site events (p. 21).

Of the 12 components, the ones most relevant to this research were (a) discerning the context; (b) building a solid base of support; (c) developing the program objectives, which in my case included transfer of learning; (d) designing instructional plans, which meant including transfer strategies as part of the instruction; (e) devising the transfer of learning plans; (f) selecting formats, schedules, and staff needs; (g) coordinating facilities and on-site events; and (h) formulating evaluation plans that included evaluating for transfer.

Program planning for Organizations

Discerning the context Caffarella (2002) suggests that the decisions that educators make related to their program can be affected by “human, organizational, and environmental factors” (p. 59). During this step in program planning, educators are encouraged to gain an understanding of these factors, also known as the context. All three factors take into account politics and the human context deals with the people who should be part of the planning process. The organizational component looks at the operating and decision-making structures of the organization, the politics of coalition building and power in relationships, and the organization's culture. The environmental context is interested in the political, economic, and social climate of the planning milieu. The needs and expectations of each context may be similar or differ and educators must be prepared to address issues of power, negotiation, and ethics in order to meet the program planning objectives effectively. Educators must know who they are planning the program for, and to whom they are accountable.

Building a solid base of support. In this step, Caffarella (2002) argues for the importance of gaining program support from individual stakeholders, gaining internal organizational support, and gaining external support from a wider community. Emphasis is also given to recognizing that program support is not static and it must be continually nurtured and developed.

Developing program objectives. According to Caffarella (2002) the difficult task of defining a program's objectives deals with more than stating what a participant is expected to learn and what the resulting changes should be. A program's objectives also include operational objectives that relate to improving the quality and quantity of the program's resources. Both measurable and non-measurable outcomes should be represented. Program objectives must be clearly written so that all parties involved understand them and can negotiate changes if necessary. They also may serve “as an internal consistency and ‘do-ability' checkpoint” (p.370) for the program. Negotiation can be a skill used at this point when changes in program objectives among the parties are needed or requested.

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Designing instructional plans. In this stage, Caffarella (2002) states that the planner must carefully define learning activities for the educational session that support the objectives of the larger training program and that will achieve the desired learning outcomes. When developing the content, one must ensure that it supports the learning objectives. As well, the instructional techniques that are chosen must be compatible with the targeted learning outcomes, the instructor's abilities, and the characteristics of the learners. An important part of designing an instructional plan is to make evaluation of the instructional event one of its components. Aspects of instructional assessment should occur before, during, and after the event, and there is more to measure than just looking for the desired result in the learner. A good instructional plan will help instructors focus on their responsibilities, communicate effectively with their students, and be prepared for their sessions. To use proper instructional and assessment techniques “involves the interaction between learners and instructors and/or learners and resource materials” (p.167).

Devising transfer-of-learning plans. One of the significant attributes of Caffarella's interactive model of program planning is that it acknowledges that learning transfer will not occur without planners consciously planning for it. Caffarella (2002) suggests that planners can help to facilitate learning transfer by knowing the context within which the learner's will be expected to use what they learn, and by incorporating transfer strategies into the program plans for implementation before, during, and after the educational event. In this stage of the planning process, Caffarella suggests that planning for transfer should be partially grounded in the understanding that factors can affect learning transfer. These factors are referred to by Caffarella as contextual factors and by other authors (e.g., Holton & Baldwin, 2003; Nelson & Dufour, 2002, Ottoson, 1997) as influential factors.

Contextual Factors

Caffarella (2002) stresses the importance of six contextual factors that can influence learning transfer which include the program participants, the program design and execution of the program, the content of the program, required changes for applying what has been learned, contextual organization, and lastly, the societal forces of the community. Most other authors classify these factors under the three headings of learner characteristic, training design, and transfer climate. In contrast, Ottoson's (1995) application process framework identifies five categories of factors under the headings of educational factors, innovation factors, predisposing factors, enabling factors, and reinforcing factors. According to Caffarella (2002), her contextual factors and the individual factors within these categories can, in combination with other factors, similarly either enhance or impede learning transfer. Ottoson (1997) agrees, describing influential factors as “any process, thing, or person that ha[s] the potential to facilitate or to hinder putting learning from [an educational program] into practical contact” (p. 94). Periodically the concept of timing is added into the equation and factors are described as being influential before, during, and after an educational event (see Holton & Baldwin, 2003; Nelson & Dufour, 2002).

Selecting formats, schedules, and staff needs. Caffarella (2002) divides the delivery of learning activities into five different formats: (a) individual formats, (b) small-group, (c) large-group, (d) distance learning, and (e) community learning. For each format she provides several examples of applicable instructional events. After having selected the best format for their learning activity, the program planner must also choose an appropriate program schedule that is compatible with the participants' schedules. The most suitable staff members should be chosen to present the program and this will sometimes mean using external consultants. Throughout this step the planner is advised to look for ways to help foster a community of learners.

Coordinating facilities and on-site events. Caffarella (2002) reminds educators how the logistical tasks of acquiring suitable and accessible facilities, the right (working) equipment, and the required instructional materials are an essential part of program planning. She also speaks to the creation of a hospitable and friendly environment for the participants; a concept consistent with the thoughts of authors such as Knowles (1980) and Hohler (2003).

Formulating evaluation plans. Caffarella (2002) states that both systematic and informal evaluation techniques should be used to evaluate the implementation of a program and to determine if its proposed outcomes were realized. The evaluation process needs to occur in all phases of the program. Making the most of evaluation opportunities while the program is in progress may allow the organizers to correct missteps or alter the direction, based on participants' reactions. The planner must specify how the evaluation data will be collected and analyzed, including the informally acquired data, if possible. Consideration must also be given to what judgments may be made about the program, based on the evaluation data that are collected.

Factors for Planning for Transfer of Learning

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As was noted in Caffarella's (2002) key component of devising transfer-of-learning plans, there are many factors that can influence learning transfer. Under the three most commonly used headings of influential factors, this section will discuss the factors of learning transfer noted in the literature.

Program participant factors. There are several program participant factors that can affect learning transfer. Some of these factors include: ability-related factors; personality or disposition; perceptions of training relevance; the learner's concerns, circumstances, and self perception; the learner's predisposing factors of knowledge, attitudes, and values; and the learner's enabling factors of skill.

According to Caffarella (2002) a learner having previous experience and a previously established knowledge base on topics that link to what is being learned can increase learning transfer. Learning transfer is impeded when the latter is not the case and when learners lack confidence. Elangovan and Karakowsky (1999) are proponents of ability-related factors, specifically knowledge acquisition and situation identification. In terms of situation identification, they have found that learning transfer is more likely to occur when learners recognize conditions or circumstances where it would be appropriate to use what was learned, and the more that what is learned is used, the easier it is for a learner to identify appropriate situations.

When considering personality or disposition, Baldwin and Ford (1988) view these characteristics as influential factors to learning transfer, whereas Elangovan and Karakowsky (1999) argue that personality does not have a direct affect on learning transfer. For Naquin and Holton (2002), disposition and personality are described as intrinsic motivators to improve work through learning, which is then linked to motivation as an influential factor of learning transfer. According to Naquin and Holton, disposition encompasses a learner's personality and values and affective structure, or mood, are the traits that make up one's personality.

Kontoghiorghies (2004) found that motivation to transfer is positively correlated with a positive learning transfer climate. When the work environment supports performance, learners are more likely to perceive their “learning efforts as an investment toward an attainable and desirable outcome. The latter, of course, translates into higher levels of motivation to learn during training and motivation to transfer learning back to the job” (p. 127).

Transfer climate. The work environment is the second category of factors to influence learning transfer. Ottoson (1995,1997) reports that pre-education routines, resource materials, competing job responsibilities, and co-workers and managers are important influencers. Garavaglia (1993) and Caffarella (2002) agree that the availability of the appropriate equipment, materials, and tools can have an affect on learning transfer. Caffarella suggests that learning transfer is enhanced when the changes that need to happen in order for learning to be transferred are realistic, and when supervisors are supportive. However, learning transfer can be impeded if the changes that need to happen in order for the learning to be transferred are too disruptive to the current workflow and are unrealistic, if the transfer climate is not supportive, or if leadership and peer support are not concrete.

Co-workers can play a role in supporting learners during the learning and transfer processes. For example, in Ottoson's (1995) application process framework, co-workers can be seen as reinforcing factors when they support their colleagues in the application of what they learned. According to Nelson and Dufour (2002), co-workers can enhance learning transfer by covering the learners' work responsibilities while the learner is attending the education.

Daley (2002) specifies that within the socio-cultural context of professional practice the nature of professional work, variations in organizational culture, and the level of independence and autonomy can influence how professionals acquire new information and how they view situations, thus influencing how new information is used in practice.

Aside from educators, managers and supervisors are among the most frequently mentioned influencers of learning transfer in the literature. Ottoson (1995) points out that managers and supervisors fall under the category of enabling factors when they provide resources and give learners authority to act and opportunity to perform. They fall under the category of reinforcing factors when they actively support application. On the two ends of the spectrum, Kupritz (2002) suggests that managers can impede learning transfer whereas Naquin and Baldwin (2003) assert that managers are “the most powerful source of transfer” (p. 91) and they, instead of the educator, should set the transfer goals in collaboration with the learners. Garavaglia (1993) is more prescriptive in the influential role of supervisors by suggesting that a supervisor's affect on learning transfer is dependent on his or her approach to it. If supervisors act negatively, “behavior changes practically disappear in six months to a year” (p. 68), whereas the positive road can lead to “behavior changes [that] are still evident six to 12 months after training” (p. 68). Likewise, Farrah and Graham (2001) advocate that managers and supervisors play a significant role in establishing supportive systems for learning transfer.

Training design factors. The design of the educational program as an influencing factor for learning transfer is frequently discussed. Elangovan and Karakowsky (1999) see contextual similarity as being influential to learning transfer, a concept they link to Yamnill and McLean's (2001) discussion of relevance. Elangovan and Karakowsky describe contextual similarity as a factor that focuses on how similar, or dissimilar, the training context is to the context within which what was learned is to be applied; and relevance relates to the learners believing that what they are learning is relevant to them and their jobs. According to Yamnill and McLean (2001) and Caffarella (2002), when relevance exists, learners are more likely to apply what they learn to their work setting.

Caffarella (2002) suggests that building on the learners' prior knowledge and skills can enhance learning transfer, whereas passive learning activities or unrealistic learning transfer strategies can impede it. She also suggests that a lack of follow-up techniques, no connection between the program content and the organization's strategic goals, and a misalignment between the content's focus (e.g., knowledge) and what is really needed (e.g., skill development), can all be barriers to learning transfer.

In her program planning model, Caffarella (2002) tries to help planners decide what learning transfer strategies to use, when to use them, and who to involve in their implementation. She and many other authors in the literature highlight strategies that can be implemented by planners, facilitators, and learners.

References