Eliminating ‘scrap learning’….

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This week I decided to delve into the topic of ‘training transfer’.  Knowing what we do about the complexities of our work environments, it seems that ‘working to learn’ or ‘knot working’ that I’ve written about in the past few posts will only be possible if we are able to successfully transfer what we learn in the workplace today into the evolving skill sets that we’ll need next week and next year.

So what is ‘transfer’? As Blume et al (2010) reported in Transfer of Training: A Meta-Analytic Review, originally transfer was described as the “extent to which learning of a response in one task or situation influences the response in another task or situation” (p. 1067). But more recently according to the authors, the definition has been evolved to better address our modern workplaces.  I could   relate more easily to these new terms like ‘lateral transfer’ (when skills are spread over a broad set of situations of similar difficulty) and ‘vertical transfer’ (when an acquired skill affects the acquisition of a more complex skill) or ‘near transfer’ (when tasks are applied almost immediately and/or perhaps at the same location) and finally ‘far transfer’ (when tasks are applied in a much different location and/or months or years later).

As someone who has been involved in academic and workplace education for years, my first thoughts were, well isn’t this what we do each day? Aren’t these the skills that we are equipping our students with for their first jobs? Isn’t this the role of every good workplace facilitator? I was taken aback when I started looking at the data, but quickly dismissed what the research papers were quoting, as it was data from the 1980 & 90’s –  I was sure things have changed….. our profession has evolved and is much more contemporary. So I went searching for more current data, which came from industry and was gathered in 2010. Knowledge advisors spoke with approx. 160 individuals involved in training in large organizations and found that only 9% of learners actually apply what they learn with positive results AND only 11% of leaders held their teams accountable for applying training……You know its pervasive when it even has its own term – ‘scrap learning’  (learning that was delivered but unsuccessfully applied and is therefore wasted). This makes it rather difficult to defend the $125 billion that is spent on training (US data – reported by Salas) each year. I started to understand why so much has been written on this topic.

I was now left looking for answers – hoping that I’m part of the 9%, part of the solution and not part of the problem. As I mentioned, a great deal has been written on the topic, but as I read further, it seems that we are having trouble quantifying the issue. Researching in a manner that can clearly identify cause and effect.

I found a great article… The Transfer of Training: What Really Matters where Salas et al spoke about the importance of training transfer and how it can yield higher productivity, improved work quality, increased motivation and commitment, higher morale and fewer errors. This group completed an extensive analysis of the research to date and came up with 11 key factors related to the transfer of training:

  1. Cognitive Ability: higher cognitive ability leads to more success in processing, retaining and generalizing trained skills;
  2. Self-Efficacy: those with higher self-efficacy have more confidence in their ability to learn and apply trained competencies and are more likely to persist with difficult tasks;
  3. Motivation: trainees must believe that they are capable of learning, that their efforts will change their performance and that change will lead to a valued outcome;
  4. Perceived utility of training: trainees must believe that the training is useful, a clear link between required performance and outcomes that they value;
  5. Behavioral modeling: trainees see the behaviors modeled by those in the culture and have opportunity to practice both positive and negative models;
  6. Error Management: trainees anticipate potential issues, practice problem solving and outline negative outcomes that can occur if training is not transferred;
  7. Realistic Training Environment: training occurs in an environment that resembles the workplace;
  8. Transfer Climate: cues are provided in the workplace that prompt the trainees to use the new skills,
  9. Support: for trainees from supervisors and peers (supervisor seen as more NB);
  10. Opportunity to perform: trainees need the resources and opportunities to apply the new skills; and
  11. Follow Up: formal training period is followed by additional learning opportunities – goal setting, job aids, debriefing, coaching, etc

Most of the list seems logical. We know that cognitive skills, self-efficacy and motivation have an impact on performance, but do we consider these traits when we are screening for hiring or to select applicants for a training program?  Perhaps it is something to consider – and it’s certainly a list that I can’t do justice to in one blog post. SO I guess I have more research and writing to do…..

Barbara Carnes in Make E-Learning Stick echoed the findings listed above and highlighted the importance of follow-up. Barbara suggested that approx. 50% of training’s effectiveness comes from follow-up and she highlighted how training is a process, not an event, and that sometimes we over focus on the event and not the process before, during and after.

So now the hard part of reflective learning…. and potentially an opportunity to ensure that it doesn’t become ‘scrap learning’. How might I use this new information that I’ve gathered this week to change my own practice? What one thing might I do differently? Hard to pick just one or two because they all seem so important BUT here goes……

I’ll start with one example of a change I’ve already made in my classroom – and that’s to start each class with a discussion/slide that speaks to WIIFM (what’s in it for me). Often times, we get caught up in the concepts and theoretical underpinnings of an issue and forget the practicality supporting theory – concepts that are evident to us, but likely a bit abstruse for our students.  A simple discussion and a WIIFM can help bridge the gap and assist in setting the stage for the dialogue of the day. I find this most often meets with nods and the willingness to travel the journey with me. And now I see that there is research to support my actions :).

And finally, what resonated most with me from this week’s readings was the need for support (from leaders and peers) and opportunities for learners to try out new skills. This is an area where I have an opportunity to influence. I have the ability as a leader to remind my colleagues of the amazing training that their staff has just participated in. I have the capacity to ask them to seek out their employees to talk about the highlights of a recent training event, engage learners by sharing their own stories as experts in the field, try to find opportunities on their unit for the trainee to actively utilize the new skill…. it really could be that easy. I commit to making one call this week – a small step to eliminating scrap learning.

That’s what I plan to try…. which of the 11 strategies above might prove helpful to you?

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‘Knotworking’…. not to be confused with not working

My mission this week was to start reviewing the work of Tara Fenwick on workplace learning. My intentions were good, I downloaded a variety of her research and then made the mistake of starting with the article with the most interesting title “Organizational Learning in the Knots “. The metaphor of ‘knotworking’ resonated with me. I liked the idea of a focus on discursive practices (how cultural meanings are produced and understood), where learning happens via inter-organizational collaboration, and the potential to create cultures where expertise trumps hierarchical structures.

It seemed like a theory of learning that might help us thrive in these times of supercomplexity (that I talked of last week). I also agreed that it is a strategy that has already been observed and has the potential to be effective in healthcare practices.

So I was off…. there must be more written on a concept so easily to visualize. How did/do Engestrom and his colleagues define this concept?

Knotworking is characterized by a pulsating movement of tying, untying and retying together otherwise separate threads of activity. The tying and dissolution of a knot of collaborative work is not reducible to any specific individual or fixed organizational entity as the center of control. The center does not hold. The locus of initiative changes from moment to moment with a knotworking sequence. (1999)

Professor Yrjö Engeström, recently spoke of ‘knotworking’ as a space where separate actors can quickly come together and tie a knot and work together and solve a problem or design a task in the most efficient way possible (IFLA August 2012). He spoke of using the concept to transform our work cultures – allowing workplaces to be more flexible, fluid, and agile. The ability to form evolving partnerships and to work more closely with our clients.

The concept requires a shift in how we think about teams and our traditional organizational cultures. It requires managers/leaders to give up control and empower those around them who have the expertise. As Blackler and McDonald found, we must act in ways no longer bounded by the knowledge, practices and relationships that normally regulate our work. Decision making becomes less hierarchical; we create new cultures that moves across boundaries sideways – instead of having to ask for permission from above (Engestrom lecture).

Those who thrive are those who are tolerant of less structure, those able to tolerate the permeable open shape and everyday improvisation (according to Fenwick). It’s a self-reflexive process – where those moving in and out of knots are able to shape their own environment, rather than having it shaped for them. Knotworking also recognizes that in today’s society, expertise is often not held at a local level and is often inter-organizational. It encourages us to ask the question – who best to address this problem/opportunity – moving experts in and out as needed. And its a society where patients/clients are partners on the team – we actively listen to their perspective and what they might want from our service or product.

For those better able to visualize a concept graphically, Blackler and McDonald, help us to think of ‘inter-subjective’ sense making and identify quadrant four on their diagram (a rather new addition to org. learning).

The diagram addresses the complex collaborative requirements of today’s workplace and the importance of lateral, rather than hierarchical relations in the organization of technical work…..

There were a number of interesting accounts of knotworking in educational and healthcare practices that I reviewed, but I was best able to visualize its use when I listened to Engestrom speak of this concept used to examine the role and future of the academic library. The traditional home of knowledge. Where learners and researchers had previously gathered BUT where chairs now often sit empty. He spoke of how researchers have disappeared from the physical space and how they now sit at home retrieving sources and texts on-line. That the relationship is now often anonymous and the expertise of librarians is often underutilized….. he spoke of how all stakeholders had agreed that traditional services weren’t working and that a new concept with new ways to serve customers was needed.

So if the historical library evolved, what might a knotworking library look like?

What the group envisioned was that the client would become part of a research group – no longer an individual but a partner in co-configuring ongoing services. The role of the librarian would not be static but they will move from group to group and create knots to solve problems in a rapid and fluid manner. They’ll offer expertise where needed on resources, data management, publishing activities, while still providing traditional student services, etc. Everyone agreed that it will be demanding work, it will require quick learning and the ability to quickly adjust to new tasks, new clients and new groups – however it has the potential to be extremely rewarding work and it becomes a continuous learning process.

That example, helped me reflect on the practical application of this model and metaphor.

SO NOW WHAT: As I tell my own students…. break it down, pick just one thing that you can reflect upon and use to positively impact your practice.

For me, as I researched and reflected on the metaphor, I had many examples where teams that I’m involved with are approaching ‘knotworking’ and opportunities where we can take this to the next level….. However, one nagging relationship kept creeping into my thoughts. A situation where the knot is  double or triple tied …. it’s the knot that just won’t give way; there is no option for the ‘pulsating’ movement of tying, untying and retying together. No wonder that this is an area of discomfort, where we continue to have ‘conflict’ and ‘mis-communications’.  I’m seeking fluidity, I’d like to see these employees move in and out of our teams, take ownership, address the needs as they arise…… and this team is still embracing current hierarchical culture. More comfortable with Fayol’s traditional  management style – plan, direct and control activities – following traditional discursive practices. Perhaps what’s needed is a new approach – an understanding of the tensions. A meeting with this manager to ask how we might encourage more flexibility, support to adjust the locus of control to where the work is being done…. a time to pilot a few new practices.

Why not, for this group perhaps we can change what’s not working into ‘knotworking’…..

I think the concept has promise in today’s cultures where we are learning to work and working to learn….. what about you?

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Is it ‘learning to work’ or ‘working to learn’

This term I offered my students the option to blog on their journey as an assignment alternative; to reflect on one or two concepts that we talk about in class each week and  how they might apply these principles. How what we discuss might influence their current/future practice and how they might be able to ‘transfer’ academic learning to their clinical practices.

So, I thought…..why not try this concept out myself since I’m studying independently this term. Why not get back to my own blog, reflect on my own readings and think about changes I might make to my own practice….. AND even better if my own Prof will consider it for an assignment option :). So here goes……

I picked up a copy of Understanding Learning at Work edited by Boud and Garrick. The title is a bit dated, but when I hit chapter three and started reading about “learning to work and working to learn” by Ronald Barnett…. I found myself nodding in agreement. We do now live in conditions of supercomplexity. Learning in work does take on a new urgency, and the framework that we use for making sense of the world is fragile or as the author suggests ‘dissolving’.

This concept of supercomplexity intrigued me…. so with the luxury of the tools afforded to me in this complex time, within seconds I was able to search the term and find out more. Barnett (2000) tells us its an “epistemology for living among uncertainty” p. 409. It really is (as he suggests) a time when knowledge is produced both in and across society. We now have quicker forms of accountability, it’s a time where industry has sophisticated research capacities, and where everyone can gain expertise with access to the internet.

Leaving academic research and looking at what colleagues were writing about the term, I thought wow, yes there is a lot happening on the world wide web every 60 seconds. And even though all the sources aren’t listed – the video brings home the point of how quickly knowledge can now be changed and be transformed.

I concur with Barnett’s concept (Understanding Learning at Work) that organizations who aren’t embracing and embedding learning into their work have found themselves ‘out of kilter’ in this time of supercomplexity. It is a different framework to become an ‘organization which knows how to learn’. He writes:

We learn not by responding to supercomplexity but by contributing further to it. We can never get on top of supercomplexity, as it were. Instead, we cope with it by intervening in the world, learning as we are doing so… We learn not just by acting and evaluating but additionally by bringing to the party and inserting into the world – through our thinking and our acting – multiple frames of understanding… life itself remains our best university but only through our best critical, active and creative efforts that we bring to bear in the process. (p.41)

So, if we are going to change our organizations to know how to learn, where do we start? Well, how about by reading an article called “When is it OK to Learn at Work” by Sheers et al (2010). This groups’ interests lie in why the discourse of learning is taken up at one place but not another. They believe when learning becomes a legitimate part of everyday work, when it is part of the practice memory of the organization, when it doesn’t occur only when there are teachers, trainers or managers present – then we are working to learn. The authors offered up Delors (1996) four pillars of learning as helpful in this time. The first two pillars are familiar within the workplace – ‘learning to know’ and ‘learning to do’.  They suggest however, that the latter two – ‘learning to be’ and ‘learning to live together’ had been reserved for our lives more holistically and not thought of in a work context to this point. Learning to be – helps us to develop autonomy, judgement and personal responsibility but also recognizes that learning takes place in a social context and is culturally loaded. Learning to work together – helps us to gain an appreciation for interdependence, the need to work together on projects and manage team conflict.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills, in the journal Praxis (how fitting a name), also supports the need to recognize workplaces as a site of learning, and the need for learning to be built into our everyday work activities. These authors support the creation of ‘expansive’ learning environments where employees are encouraged to be flexible, questioning, creative and independent (which supports the earlier concept of ‘learning to be’).  And they propose the concept that learning is fostered through social relationships, and interactions with resources and ideas in the workplace (which is similar to ‘learning to live together’). Their ‘Working as a Learning Framework’ helps us to understand the productive system and the constituent parts that determine if we’ll create a ‘recipe following’ culture or a ‘freestyle’ productive system. Successful organizations, according to the authors, are able to balance the regulation of work (at all levels) and the stages of production. These organizations have engaged employees, who are encouraged to share their ideas alongside job specific skills, that are supported to develop informal communities of practice and rewarded for positively engaging in work tasks.

So now the hard part, how do we take these concepts and create environments where employees are comfortable with change, and able to transform what they know and do today into what will be coming at them tomorrow – which might look quite different. How do we complete a radical rethink of our practices? How do we create environments where along with learning to know and do, we also learn to be and live together?

At a meeting this week, I heard a senior organizational leader comment that we need to become ‘a living lab’. I quickly scrambled to write the concept down – because it’s exactly what we need to thrive in supercomplexity. We need to brand our organizations as such. At interviews and orientations, we need to let employees know that doing a good job includes examining and refining our work practices every day. Rather than paying lip service to the concept of teamwork it becomes an expectation that employees will collaborate with colleagues (from all areas). We’ll try to understand what others do and the interdependencies between our roles. We’ll become comfortable with the fact that new knowledge will constantly be available and that best practice may evolve between coffee break and lunchtime. We’ll seek out leaders who believe in working to learn. (The questions on p. 19 of Praxis – serve as a great starting point for discussion).

But as I tell my own students – it starts with a small step. As Barnett’s quote earlier suggested….. we must insert our selves into the world – intervene….. SO HERE GOES…. In my own world at work, I lead a team that facilitates learning at work in a lab setting. We have a variety of complex equipment in our lab that allows us to ‘practice danger safely’. It’s a perfect setting for us to work as teams, and to practice complex problem solving and ask ‘what if’. So far however, we’ve asked everyone to book lab time, fill out forms, etc – so I guess I’m suggesting that we are still steeped in tradition, we are more of a ‘restrictive’ learning environment. Some of this is required to avoid complete and utter chaos. BUT, to be truly helpful to the team we support, we also need to be flexible enough to allow staff and students to ‘work to learn’.  We need to build some flexibility into our schedules, letting leaders and teams know that its OK to drop in and solve a current work problem, refresh a skill that they might need later in the day, come down with a colleague who wants to share their expertise in a safe and private setting…. We need to commit to learning to be and live together. This week our team will start to talk about how we support this concept in our lab.

What about you? What small step can you take to start ‘working to learn’?


Barnett, R. (2000). University Knowledge in an Age of Supercomplexity. Higher Education, 40: 409- 422.

Boud, D. and Barrick, J. (1999). Understanding Learning at Work. Routledge: New York, NY.

Felstead, A., Fuller, A., Jewson, N. & Unwin, L. (2011). Praxis: Working to Learn, Learning to Work. UK Commission for Employment and Skills, 7: 1 – 22.

Scheeres, H.,  Solomon, N., Boud, D. & Rooney, D. (2010). When is it OK to learn at work? The learning work of organisational practices. Journal of Workplace Learning,  22:1/2, 13 – 26.

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Starting Backward & Looking Forward…

I was writing a post for our Simulation Centre Blog (www.oursimcentre.wordpress.com) and thought further about the post and whether my advice about evaluation being an ‘afterthought’ is limited to simulated environments…. or is the advice from M. Kaas that I refer to really applicable whenever we find ourselves in the classroom?

I reflected on a recent discussion with a classmate who stopped me after my own class to ask if I’ll be able to apply what we are currently studying in either my dissertation or my own practice – if we have to ask the question, do we already know the answer?

We get so busy putting together our lesson plans and HOPEFULLY creating engaging classroom activities…. we think about how we’ll measure and test – but do we really think seriously about the difference that the education will make for our students in their practice? How might we measure that application? What is the critical take away?

I’m always excited when I hear from former students – when they send me an article they’ve recently read that made them think of me. Or, when students comment in an evaluation that they are now excited about a topic because of an expert from industry who came to class and provided them with a way to link theory to practice. Those are the moments I value most.

As Merrie suggests – what do we want the learner to know? Are we designing the technology around the learning or vice versa? In 6 months’ time, will students remember anything that we’ve covered with them? How often do we ask students to reflect on the information and how they might integrate this new knowledge into their practice? Do we discuss clinical situations and provide examples of where this information might prove valuable?

So what next?

For me, I commit to bringing problem based learning (PBL) activities to every class I facilitate from this point forward. The research supports PBL, we know that it works, PBL is engaging and it allows students immediate application of a principle…..and isn’t it really just another form of simulation anyway.

What about you, do you or will you start backward at the outcome and look forward for the answer?


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Becoming Schoolgirls…

So, I’m working on this presentation for my current class – and vacillating between the student attitude of…. its only worth 10% so how much time should I devote to this…. and the mature, educator (or perhaps schoolgirl) mindset of any job worth doing, is worth doing well. (Replication of the latter attitude would certainly make Tuesday nights more palatable team).

The session I’ve been asked to facilitate is based on a 2001 study by Davies, Sormer, Gannon, Laws, Rocco, Taguchi and McCann on “Becoming Schoolgirls”.

Once again, I started out somewhat skeptical…. do I really believe that those stories from grade school in MacNutt Saskatchewan, really had a part in shaping who and what I am today – did they play a role in my ‘subjectification‘?

The authors of the article, used a process called ‘collective biography’ where they would tease out stories from their past…. the process puts theory into use in everyday life and uses everyday life to understand and extend theory (sounds a bit like my kinda research).

As I read through their article, each of the stories evoked a memory of my own…. the Grade 1/2 teacher who gave me the ‘privilege’ of walking (alone) uptown each day to fetch her mail from the post office (my reward was 10 cents for mail/25 cents for parcels), the home economics teacher who made me sew a 3 piece suit (my 1st term in a new school) when all my classmates (who hadn’t had those many years of 4-H) got to sew & later model their aprons…. or the math teacher who called out our marks from lowest to highest after every exam that we wrote.  Wow…. it’s sometimes a wonder that we are here at all.

The authors, (all very successful professionals) allude to how we must have learned to be ‘good girls’, to be ‘conscious of the lines’. That we learned the tricks of the trade; we willingly participated in our submission – to become masters of our autonomy. Did it really have that big an impact? For those of us who learned the game, was becoming a ‘good girl’ a trait that has served us well throughout life? I tried to say no….but….

So, as I think about how this knowledge should change how I teach and how I practice – I know there are a number of things that I do differently in life and in my classrooms. BUT, I am left to wonder – were there some of those stories that have served us well?

There must be other ‘school girls’ with stories out there….

(Thanks Ron for the encouragement to get back and write my 30th post).


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How about this strategy?

I was trying to come up with something inventive to do for my last in-class quiz with my undergrad classes…..

What I decided to try was a ‘Wordle’ of the chapters that they’d been required to read that week.

Students were provided with a copy of the wordle and were asked to pick 5 terms related to the area we’d been discussing. They were asked to define each term, explain why the terms were important to nursing practice and/or to provide an example of how the term might be used in a nursing research project.

Once again, I was pleased with results. Students thought critically about the importance of the term and came up with some VERY creative examples of how they might see the term applied in clinical research or quality improvement. They went over their wordle with a fine tooth comb, they wrote madly for the 30 minutes allotted, and had many great ideas that I enjoyed reading about later. They told me it was a fun exercise and hopefully it was unique enough that just a few of the concepts will stick…..

Sometimes, the simpler the better…..


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So why didn’t I think of that?

It appears I’ve been busy implementing new strategies in my classroom as of late…… so now for a little time to reflect.

Recently I implemented another of the strategies of Meeker, Jones & Flanagan (2008) from their work on teaching under-grad nursing research from an evidence based perspective. Well, I came home from both my classes, beaming like a proud parent. It was easy to hear from the conversations around the room that students ‘got it’. They were laughing, the noise level was high and I was hearing words like – my abstract had it all;  how much time can we have for this exercise; or I actually can’t recommend my article – they didn’t even consider aboriginal people.  Music to a teacher’s ears.

So, what did we do?

Well, first of all, as a group we picked 2 different topics that we’d research. I combed the journals for some current nursing research topics, but students were free (as a group) to pick whatever topic interested them. With topics decided, students went away (with advice from the academic librarian who had joined us in class that day) and found a quantitative article  on their assigned topic. The hope was that we’d get a variety of literature on the same topic.

Students worked individually on part one of the assignment. They had a brief ‘voice thread’ created by your truly, and some very explicit marking criteria for the exercise. (The marker tells me that it’s the first year that everyone selected a quantitative article….. cha ching….. win one).

For class the following week, students were then asked/reminded/and a few still forgot (ha!) to bring their work with them for an in-class assignment.  5% of the mark had been reserved for this activity (yes, I’m not above ‘encouraging’ attendance and participation).

In small groups, with some clear and concise guidelines that I had created (some structure is our friend); students started by providing an overview of the article each had reviewed. They talked about results, the impact on patient care/nursing, why some studies were weak and ultimately the group had to put 2 articles forward  for a bonus mark. Students who had the concepts mastered -helped their colleagues who were less certain, they got to hear about 5 different studies – instead of just one, they heard how others had approached the same exercise, and in the end, almost every group got full marks. I called it a PBL (problem based learning) SUCCESS! 🙂

Such a simple concept – duh….. why hadn’t I thought this up myself…..  Thanks Meeker et al, this is a new trick that is definitely going in my toolkit.

Oh and in case anyone cares…… Cuba was lovely…….. Voice threads really are a beautiful thing. You CAN be two places at one time :).

Comments? Ideas?

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