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Bridging the gap between learning and practice

This article considers ways in which trainers can endeavour to ensure their teaching produces the desired outcomes in the workplace.
Image is split vertically. Left shows woman in civilian clothes in a discussion group. Right shows same person in nurse's uniform with a patient.

Here, we consider what trainers can do to ensure newly acquired knowledge and skills are transferred to practice.

Practice and feedback

Learners who have practised a new skill, or applied new knowledge and received feedback, are more likely to transfer their knowledge to practice than those who did not have such an opportunity in a lecture environment.

This is likely to be related to the stronger growth of mental connections brought about by active learning methods. In addition to a motivational effect, the stronger connections make retrieval easier after time has passed

Spacing and interleaving

Spacing learning and interleaving support retention over a longer period. For this reason, they also support transfer to practice. Perhaps counterintuitively, methods that produce the quickest outcome within a lesson are often not those which support longer availability of recall.

Specifically, massed learning can produce short term recall which is slightly stronger than space. However, its effect drops away quite soon. An example is ‘cramming’ for an exam.

Cramming produces a short term benefit. But, as we recently overheard a senior member of staff tell a group of juniors, ‘You’ll have forgotten most of it a few weeks later.

Early opportunities to apply new knowledge and skills

We have seen that memory can fade without practice. Newly acquired skills are more likely to be used when learners have opportunities to use them soon after training.

In this way, they are retrieved before the downward slope of the Forgetting Curve has travelled too far downwards. If an attendee on a Supervisory course is able to practise newly developed skills with their direct reports straight away, they are more likely to reinforce their mental models through practice.

Conversely, someone who attends the same course but is not given a supervisory role until a year later may find it hard to retrieve some of the content.

Follow-on activities

One of the most reassuring comments for a trainer to hear at the end of training is that trainees will miss the support provided by the sessions. Depending on the topic, a trainer may be able to set up an online support network for trainees to share experiences.

They may also agree to meet and share experiences a month or two later. They may be able to encourage a more active form of meeting such as the setting up of a supportive action learning set.

Supervisors that encourage, support, and monitor

If upon returning to work a learner is encouraged to use new skills and provided with further feedback, their mental model continues to build and strengthen.

Effectively, the supervisor or mentor takes over from the trainer and continues to support the building of their new mental model.

Coaching and mentoring

There are many overlapping definitions of coaching and mentoring, and sometimes the terms are used interchangeably.

In this article, we simply suggest that coaching tends to be performance-focused where a coach draws out skills from the coachee. Mentoring tends to be undertaken by a more experienced colleague who shares their greater knowledge to help develop the mentee.

Mentor and mentee having a conversation looking at a laptop

Coaching and mentoring are not usually categorised as a form of training, although they exert a strong influence on learning transfer. It is not often within a trainer’s remit to offer this form of support during or after training.

However, trainers recognise the benefit of these forms of support and may encourage trainees to seek a mentor to support them with a range of newly acquired skills.

The ability to coach and mentor broaden a trainer’s skills set. Even if they do not formally act as a coach or mentor, the knowledge provides extra tools in the training toolbox when required.


Trainers take a big step towards effecting a transfer to practice when they evaluate learning beyond recording feelings at the end of training. As mentioned above, learners are not always aware of how effective training has been.

Post-course evaluations (or ‘Happy Sheets’ as they are sometimes known) may be completed honestly, but may not reflect lasting learning or changes in behaviour.

Once trainers look beyond immediate feedback and investigate the amount of their training that is transferred to the workplace and to patient care, they mine a new seam of data that will inform their future learning designs.

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Train the Healthcare Trainer

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