5 of the best TED Talks on Learning Transfer Everyone Should Watch

Jess Sayer

TED Talks are a great source of inspiration. Although there aren’t any specifically talking about our favourite topic of learning transfer, here are a list of our favourites that link to the principles of behavioural change and the transfer of learning.

1) Jacob Barnett – Forget what you know

Diagnosed with autism from birth and on the precipice of teenage-hood, Jacob eloquently talks about quantum mechanics and physics, but his message from the TEDx stage is applicable to all areas of learning. Jacob totally believes in the power of learning, but thinks that it is even more powerful to stop learning every so often so you can transition from learning, to thinking, to creating. Jacob argues that only by immersing yourself in thinking about what you’ve learnt and applying what you’ve learnt can you create. Music to our ears of course! We immediately leapt to interpret ‘thinking’ as reflection – which regular readers will know we believe to be absolutely crucial to any transfer of learning process. It is confronting to hear him say “stop learning”. But listen on, and we’re encouraged by his argument to “stop being a student of that field. BE the field. Then maybe you can create something.” Watch it here.

2) Angela Lee Duckworth – Grit: The power of passion and perseverance

With a background in consulting and teaching, Angela Lee Duckworth went on to pursue psychology after observing that IQ was not the single best predictor for success in her classroom. Her extensive research has found that in fact there is one other characteristic that is a significant predictor of success, and that characteristic is “grit”. By “grit” she means passion and perseverance for long-term goals, having stamina, sticking with your future not just for the week, but for years. She talks about how there many intelligent, talented individuals in the world who simply do not follow through on commitments. In ourselves and for our children we must build grit, persevere with learning, be willing to fail and to start over again with lessons learnt if need be. This rings very true in the Learning & Development world – with a transfer of learning support process in place after learning we can support learners to build their grit and persevere with turning their learning into action. Watch it here.

3) Brené Brown – The Power Of Vulnerability

Emma saw Brené Brown speaking at the CLO Spring Symposium last year and apparently she was awesome. Her TED talk is a favourite of many around the globe. She talks about how we must learn to embrace vulnerability, and that we should not be embarrassed about making mistakes. This is so applicable to effective learning transfer conversations as allowing yourself to be vulnerable and reflect on your vulnerabilities is the key to transformation. Watch it here.

4) Ramsey Musallam – 3 Rules to Spark Learning

Chemistry teacher Rasmey Musallam talks about how a life threatening condition led him to understand the true role of an educator. His 3 rules to spark learning were inspired by the surgeon who saved his life. Ramsey urges us to embrace curiosity, to not fear the messy process of trial and error, and to practice reflection. Whilst his talk is primarily aimed at school education, his message rings true for workplace learning professionals. We must move forward from being decimators of content to embrace a new paradigm as cultivators of curiosity.

That point on curiosity reminded me of our model of learning transfer – often we find ineffective transfer is concentrating on Compliance, Control and Content. Our preference is to tackle learning transfer is with Curiosity, Creativity and Context for sustained behavioural change. And need we highlight the mention of reflection again?! Bingo. Watch it here.

5) Diana Nyad – Never, ever give up

Now this one is a little bit of a stretch but Diana’s story is just so compelling. With four failed attempts to swim the extreme 100-mile crossing between Cuba and Florida behind her, and despite the jellyfish stings and the hallucinations, she finally managed to achieve her lifetime goal at age 64. Her story is a reminder to think big, set goals and accept failure on the journey. No matter what minefields get in your way, with a strong plan in place, and accountability and commitment to achieve them, your goals can become a reality. We always encourage learning and development professionals to make time for a robust action planning process to set up learners for success with their transfer of learning. Specific learning transfer follow up after the learning will help individuals reflect and hold themselves accountable to their goals. For an example of the action plan we use with our clients take a look here. Watch Diana’s full talk here.


So what can we take away from this? Plan and plan big, encourage vulnerability, curiosity and reflection, have grit and persevere, and you have all the makings of a recipe for learning transfer success.


Jess Sayer

Jess Sayer is the Marketing Coordinator for Lever – Transfer of Learning. With a passion for design, communication and the psychology of learning, Jess’s energy and enthusiasm helps to build the Learning Transfer community, and support Lever in delivering and measuring tangible business results from learning. Connect with Jess here. Much more detail around the issues and solutions examined in our articles are available in Emma’s book Turning Learning into Action – please feel free to download a free chapter.