In order to better understand the impact of the Public Sector Management Program (PSMP), QUT is undertaking a longitudinal study that has unearthed some interesting findings. The study highlights specific factors that support or inhibit managers’ ability to apply program learnings when back in the workplace.
Baldwin, Ford and Blume (2017) state that for education and training to have an impact there needs to be an explicit focus on the optimisation of transfer and not just learning.
As part of the QUT study, 200 program participants across all states and territories from the 2017 cohort undertaking the PSMP, completed the Learning Transfer Systems Inventory (LTSI) (Bates, Holton and Hatala 2012).
Three key factors were explored by this survey which could impact the learner’s ability to transfer their learning into the workplace (Noe, Tews and Dachner, 2010):
- Individual characteristics of the learner that includes their motivation to learn and use their learning in the workplace and a sense of self-efficacy to apply their learning.
- The design of the program should provide a learning environment conducive to learning and supports transfer of learning. The content of the program also needs to reflect the job requirements.
- A work environment where support is provided by managers and peers for learners to apply their learning in their workplace.
In addition to the survey, a total of 42 interviews were conducted with 20 program participants on three occasions during the 15-month program. These interviews sought to explore factors that supported or inhibited participants’ opportunities to apply their learning, identifying three phases.
Phase 1 – Learning to learn
This phase highlighted that the participants were already finding the program very useful but were challenged by learning to study again. Support from the facilitator, other PSMP students and friends and family was important to them as they settled into the program.
Phase 2 – Opportunities abound
Program participants shared their excitement regarding new opportunities. They also discussed an increase in personal awareness and how their new skills boosted their sense of self-efficacy.
Phase 3 – Eagle’s wings or lead balloons
This phase highlighted that some participants felt successful having had the opportunity to apply their new skills. Some reported being invited into teams by managers to add significant value to their departments. Others were frustrated as they felt blocked by organisational constraints, with limited opportunity and support to apply their learning in the workplace.
Strategies to apply learning
Three key strategies emerged in the interviews that participants use to support the application of their learning and build relationships to make an impact in their organisation;
- Navigation strategies to negotiate the political, operational and personality landscapes.
- Personal strategies learnt during the PSMP to develop and manage self.
- Leveraging strategies to use their participation in the program to create opportunities to showcase their new skills for impact in their workplace.
Relationships are key
What emerged from both the survey and interviews is that relationships are key to program participants applying their learning and changing their workplace practices. From the interviews it was evident that some relationships are supportive, some are impeding and others latent and simply not capitalised on.
So where does this leave managers and learners aiming to maximise the impact of training in the workplace? The results of the survey and the interviews highlighted three important areas to be considered that support program participants to use their learning in the workplace.
Program participants need to have the opportunity to discuss the training before they attend a program. They need to know what to expect during the program and understand how the training is related to their work performance. This can be facilitated by managers and program participants creating a development plan with clear goals and actions on learning and application in the workplace.
For those participants attending academic programs such as the PSMP delivered by university partners, preparing to learn and undertake an academic program is important. As an example, QUT has a blended learning program, Writing for Success, that is embedded into the PSMP providing participants with skills to manage their study and read and write for an academic program.
Lastly, it is important to develop participants’ skills through what they learn on the program and through coaching by managers to strengthen key relationships and develop the necessary strategies to create opportunities.
Relevant and supportive program design
Programs that include up to date content relevant to participants’ roles understandably have more impact in the workplace. Learning activities and work-related projects as designed into the PSMP, allow participants to directly apply their new learning into are the workplace.
The support from managers and peers is instrumental to program participants applying their new learning. Key to this is an organisational culture that celebrates innovative application of learning from a program and which reinforces the importance of participants applying their learning. Findings in this research study highlighted examples of managers asking program participants to share their learning with the team, or to take on a project that directly used their skills.
Upskilling managers and peers to provide performance feedback and to engage in coaching conversations can support participants to experiment with and apply their new knowledge and skills. In addition, managers need to actively show their commitment to support participants throughout the program.
Lastly, connecting participants with program alumni as buddy-support establishes a strong base for ongoing support and networking within the organisation to enhance the impact of a program.
The impact of training programs such as the PSMP relies primarily on the opportunity for learners to use their learning in the workplace. Building in factors that support the transfer of learning as part of the program design and upskilling both participants and managers to support learning application will deliver direct impact and value for the public service.
Ultimately, these factors are key in order to empower learners and organisations with wings and not lead balloons that hold them back.
By Professor Vicky Browning, Director Client Programs, QUT Graduate School of Business and QUTeX; Associate Professor Jennifer Bartlett, QUT School of Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations and Associate Professor Amanda Gudmundsson, Assistant Dean, Teaching and Learning, QUT Business School.
For more information visit www.qut.edu.au/qutex or call 07 3138 7733.