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How to Use Apprenticeship to Drive Knowledge Transfer in L&D Training Programs

Apr 22, 2019 4:59:00 PM


For many L&D organizations, too little of their training investment results in behavior change in the workplace. Here, we introduce how the apprenticeship model can help solve this vexing problem. It’s a way to make your training stick, and most importantly, transfer classroom concepts into desired behaviors in the workplace.

Apprenticeship has been around for thousands of years. At its foundation, it’s learn-by-doing. This model is utilized across many fields, including vocational training, aviation, and medicine - but how is it useful for training knowledge workers in business? Let’s find out!

The 3 Parts to Effective Apprenticeship and How it Applies to L&D

  1. The Process: Effective training is rooted in a process: a coaching process, a sales process, employee retention process, leadership mentoring process, etc. This is no different than processes for craftspeople. The process gives structure for repeatable results.
  2. The Knowledge: The learner needs a foundation of subject-matter expertise, and a conceptual understanding of the process. This part is covered with classroom or e-learning, within your training.
  3. The Skill: This is the ability to use the process and knowledge, in real situations. We assume this is easy for knowledge workers. It’s not. And that’s the problem! This is where apprenticeship principles shine: expert behaviors are modeled, and mentors provide feedback as learners attempt to follow the model.

In summary, effective use of apprenticeship is built around a process, expert knowledge, and the development of skill to use the knowledge in the process.

Benefits of Utilizing Apprenticeship Principles within Training Programs

Developing the skill to apply training in the real world is hard. Yet it’s so vital to improve performance. Skill is the difference between an average artisan and a magnificent one. It’s also the difference between an average worker and a top performer within organizations.

The Benefits of Apprenticeship Principles:

Apprenticeship puzzle piece linked to practicing, learning, training, and working

  • Safe practice lowers barriers to behavior change, creating both competence and confidence.
  • Mentoring and coaching dramatically improves optimal behavior adoption, over trial-and-error in real situations, or unguided practice exercises (such as with peers).
  • Learn-by-doing practice creates personalized experiences that greatly improve retention.

Cognitive Apprenticeship – The learning science…

“Cognitive Apprenticeship” does sound a bit heavy. That’s because it’s a cognitive science theory about how to apply the apprenticeship model to thinking skills. It’s perfectly applicable to L&D goals. Basically, the theory states that we should extract the mental models of experts – how they make decisions – then have learners make decisions in realistic situations, and coach them to recognize the patterns within the expert mental models. More on using cognitive apprenticeship can be found here, and more on using expert mental models is available here.

How to Incorporate the Apprenticeship Model into Your Training

Most L&D organizations have the process and the knowledge components optimized. By adding more of the skill component, dramatic improvements in knowledge transfer can be achieved.

Just like apprentice stone masons, knowledge workers need to practice with mentored coaching to achieve competence. Therefore, practice with coaching is how employees develop skills to effectively use knowledge in a process.

Let’s consider three ways that are often tried to developing skills: two that work, and one doesn’t.

One-on-One. Everyone would love to learn new processes one-on-one with a master, like Mr. Miyagi or Yoda. In the corporate world, the masters are often in short supply and expensive to scale.

Ineffective Digital. Realizing that one-one-one is not cost-effective, some may think to capture the “master” on video, so everyone can see how they perform. Or one could conduct webinars, where the “master” can train the many. However, videos and webinars are passive and impersonal, and as a result, skill building is minimal, and retention is poor.

Immersive Digital Training image with Interacting AvatarsEffective Immersive Digital. A digital solution must be an effective surrogate for one-on-one. Therefore, it needs to be engaging, interactive, and personalized. For business processes, the goal is to immerse employees into realistic situations involving conversation, where they make decisions and receive personalized, coaching feedback.

Attributes of Immersive Digital Solutions to Learn-by-Doing

To make classroom concepts flourish in the real world, we need to create a safe environment for learners to practice and receive expert coaching. While one-on-one mentoring is ideal, a digital approach is far more scalable. An effective technology approach should contain the following attributes:

  • Realistic. The more the learner feels they are “in” the situation, the better. Most often, business training involves decision-making revolving around a conversation. Therefore, interacting with virtual humans in conversations is much more realistic than text and pictures, or videos. E-learning tools are not a great fit.
  • Coaching Feedback. When learners make decisions, mentoring feedback on those decisions is critical, so they can begin to recognize optimal decision patterns. Conversational feedback is far better than text!
  • Engaging. This goes beyond gamification, and includes putting the learner in meaningful situations, with challenging decisions to make. Being challenged is fun.
  • Measurement. Measuring where learners struggled (and needed the most mentoring), and where they did well, provides valuable insights for the organization.
  • Future Modifications. A platform approach is ideal. With a platform, content can be modified and expanded over time, in an economical way.

SalesTrainingOnTabletAs an example, Syandus has created the AliveSim™ Learn-by-Doing platform by fusing these principles with virtual game technology.

This platform is utilized by organizations in leadership development, sales, coaching, and more. AliveSim allows learners to practice their new processes in a safe environment, and develop the skills of top performers.

If you’re looking for a way to make your classroom concepts flourish in the real world, the learn-by-doing principles of the apprenticeship model provide a roadmap. Leveraging responsive virtual humans who possess the real-world expertise of your top performers, can really make your training investments pay off – especially when they’re delivered by a full-featured platform that’s flexible and easy to scale.

About Syandus: Virtual immersive learning technology that transforms knowledge into real-world performance. We immerse participants in realistic virtual situations with one-on-one expert coaching that gives them experience making optimal decisions. Syandus Learning Modules combine cognitive science principles, the realism of game technology, and our customer’s proprietary content, to deliver rapid skill acquisition. Modules are cloud-based for easy deployment, fully trackable with embedded analytics, and can be used on any web-enabled device.

Douglas Seifert, PhD

Written by Douglas Seifert, PhD

Doug leads a team at Syandus that combines cognitive science with virtual game technology to create rapid skill acquisition. The company has won several awards from the National Science Foundation’s Education Division.