Can Knowledge Translation Training Really Change Workplace Practices?

Written by: Morgan Potter, Stephanie Brooks, & Anna Noga

At KT Alberta, we are always on the lookout for training and professional development opportunities for our community. Earlier this year, we spoke with the Alberta SPOR SUPPORT Unit Learning Health System Team (formerly called the Alberta SPOR SUPPORT Unit Knowledge Translation Platform) about their new KT Certificate program. AbSPORU completed their pilot cohort for the certificate in December 2019 and recently evaluated the success of this first certificate offering.

We spoke with Ms. Morgan Potter (Program Coordinator, Training and Professional Development at the KT Platform) about the many benefits of the training program: the flexibility of its online format; the multiple KT expert guest instructors included in the program; the live weekly instruction and individual at homework; the short eleven week format; and the accessibility to graduate students, health researchers, physicians, health system staff and policy-makers.

This is the first certificate of its kind in Alberta, and with this level of accessibility and expertise offered, we were excited to learn that another cohort will begin in Fall 2020 (watch the KT Alberta events page for upcoming details and a link to the registration page!)

Morgan Potter on Measuring KT Training Transfer

As people working in healthcare and health research, we do the best we possibly can to improve peoples’ lives, health, and happiness and the systems that make this possible. Part of this effort is keeping up to date on the latest knowledge and best practices by attending training events.

We arrive at these events with the best intentions – to fill our knowledge-buckets and use what we learn to make a difference. But, is this motivation enough to create a practice change? What else is at play here, and what can groups who offer training do to ensure their lessons become part of workplace practice? Training is only worthwhile when it can be applied in real-world practice. Thus, understanding the complexities of learning transfer can increase training uptake, in turn, ensuring the value of professional.

ABOUT THE LEARNING TRANSFER SYSTEM INVENTORY TOOL

With a goal of optimizing the training outcomes and impact of the KT Certificate program, AbSPORU embedded the Learning Transfer System Inventory (LTSI) tool into our program evaluation. The LTSI has been developed as an all-encompassing tool to determine what variables affect learning transfer.  The LTSI has been validated and replicated across different disciplines, countries, and contexts. Furthermore, the tool continues to be revised as new research emerges.

The foundation of the LTSI stems from three main constructs that influence learning outcomes: ability, motivation, and workplace environment. Each one of these constructs is made up of several factors, or variables, that are proven to affect learning transfer. Currently, the LTSI consists of 16 factors.

In practice, teams administer surveys of the LTSI, which includes a set of 89 statements to explore the potential for learning transfer in a group of learners. Each statement links back to one of the 16 factors. For example, to understand how peer support affects learning transfer, a statement would read “at work, my colleagues expect me to use what I learn in training” or “my colleagues appreciate when I use the new skills I have learned in training.” Learners are asked to rate their level of agreement with each statement on a 5-point scale. Twenty-six of these statements ask learners about their general perceptions of training. Sixty-three of these statements ask learners about their perceptions of a specific training activity.

HOW WE USED THE LTSI

A crucial step towards understanding and improving learning transfer is to accurately determine the factors that inhibit transfer in the first place. With this in mind, we implemented the LTSI as part of the pre-course survey and post-course survey evaluations for the certificate program.

From the learners’ responses to each statement in the LTSI, a mean score was calculated for each construct, which was then categorized as a strong barrier, barrier, facilitator, or strong facilitator.

The LTSI survey allowed us to collect information on factors that either improved or interfered with learning transfer for our specific training audience. While this was simply exploratory, and the number of learners was small, it created a new lens to view and shape our future training initiatives with.

THE RESULTS

Learners’ perspectives of training in general

  • Facilitators. Based on the learners’  responses, all factors that measured perceptions of general training (not specific to the KT Certificate) received a classification of facilitator or strong facilitator. This meant that our group of learners valued learning opportunities and had high internal and external motivation to apply new skills and lessons to their work.

Learners’ perspectives of ability factors

  • Barriers. Personal capacity for transfer was identified as a weak barrier. This implied that the participants felt that they might not have time, energy, or mental space in their regular workday to incorporate new learnings.
  • Facilitators. Transfer design, perceived content validity of course content, and opportunity to use learning were identified as facilitators to learning transfer. This meant that the way the training was delivered, the way training reflected work demands, and the ability for tools and resources used in the KT Certificate program to be available for use after the training positively influenced the transfer of learning to the workplace.

Learners’ perspectives of motivation factors

  • Barriers. Learner readiness was identified as a barrier, specifically, how prepared the participants felt entering the KT certificate program. Although this is only measured as a slight barrier in our learner group, it does provide insight on ways we can improve participant preparation in the next offering of the course.
  • Facilitators. Overall, this group of participants was highly motivated to learn and apply their learning to the work contexts. They were both internally and externally motivated to apply training in general, and to apply the lessons and skills covered in the KT Certificate.

Learners’ perspectives of work environment factors

  • Barriers. Four of the work environment factors were identified as barriers to learning transfer. These fell into two broad categories, namely supervisor involvement in learning transfer and perceived outcomes of using the new skills and knowledge gained in the course. This could be interpreted in different ways, and might mean that supervisors are not openly encouraging the use of KT theories and strategies, nor is there punishment or reprimand for not using them. However, it could also mean that the impact of supervisor support and associated workplace incentives are less important to learning transfer in our group of learners. While these are simple assumptions of the work environment based on the responses we received, and may not be true for all work environments, it does give us an interesting perspective about possible workplace contexts.
  • Facilitators. Readiness to change was identified as a strong facilitator to learning transfer. This meant that people in the workplace are open and willing to change the way they do things to incorporate new leanings. Performance coaching and peer support were also identified as facilitators. In contrast to the workplace barriers around supervisor support and formal workplace recognition, feedback from peers about how well they were incorporating the training and peer encouragement are enablers of learning transfer.

THE TAKEAWAY

Understanding what limits or enables people to use the lessons and skills taught in training will help shape future iterations of this course and other training initiatives targeted towards this audience. This information gives us an additional lens to view the training we offer as we explore ways to further encourage the use of KT skills in and tools in the workplace.

Using the LTSI as a framework, we were able to gather our learners’ perspectives on factors that are empirically associated with positive learning transfer across many disciplines. Most noteworthy from this evaluation of learning transfer was the strong internal and external motivation to apply skills learned from training in the workplace and the possible barriers around workplaces openly encouraging the use of new learnings from training.

Overall, exploring potential barriers and facilitators to learning transfer in the context of KT training will help us shape future training events. We, like all of you, aim to use all the information we have to make purposeful decisions that will leave a positive impact on others. I invite you to think about the barriers and facilitators you face when implementing your new skills and learning in the workplace. We would love to hear what you think.

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Land Acknowledgment

The Alberta SPOR SUPPORT Unit operates on and acknowledges the lands that are the traditional and ancestral territory of many peoples, presently subject to Treaties 6, 7, and 8. Namely: the Blackfoot Confederacy – Kainai, Piikani, and Siksika – the Cree, Dene, Saulteaux, Nakota Sioux, Stoney Nakoda, and the Tsuu T’ina Nation and the Métis People of Alberta. This includes the Métis Settlements and the the Métis Nation of Alberta. We acknowledge the many First Nations, Métis and Inuit who have lived in and cared for these lands for generations. We make this acknowledgment as a reaffirmation of our shared commitment towards reconciliation, and as part of AbSPORU’s mandate towards fostering health system transformation.

 

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