Learning transfer in a public agency : a context for situational leadership and situated learning

The purpose of this study was twofold: a) to understand learning transfer relative to teamwork competency among supervisors who have participated in a professional development program; and, b) to evaluate the relationship between the professional development curriculum and supervisors’ decision-making. The phenomenon of learning transfer is an “active process” whereby employees apply what is learned in training situations, to new situations and to learn related information more quickly (Bransford, et al., p. 17). “It is estimated that only 10% to 13% of learned skills from staff training programs are transferred to the work environment (Austin & Hopkins, 2004, p. 191).” Six supervisors and eight social workers described their experiences of teamwork and professional development within a public human services agency (PHHS). Using a phenomenological methodology to collect and analyze data, four focus groups and one interview were conducted in order for the supervisors and social workers to describe their experiences separately. Data analysis entailed categorizing into codes and then identifying salient themes from the data. Four themes emerged in this study: (1) Precedent, (2) Opportunity, (3) Initiative, and (4) Reward. The theme of Precedent indicated that the PHHS management do not consider teamwork and professional development priority topics. The theme of Opportunity indicated that supervisors and social workers agree that more professional development opportunities need to be made available. The theme of initiative indicated that supervisors and social workers are not creating their own teamwork or professional development activities. The theme of Reward indicated that supervisors and social workers expect job promotion as a natural outcome to their work. The study concluded with recommendations to the public human services agency for enhancing their professional development program. One recommendation is the revision of the professional development curriculum with more emphasis on leadership literature. Another recommendation calls for the introduction of the science of learning and teaching into the professional development curriculum.