How Your Workplace Can Support Learning Transfer

Training that fails to transfer to the workplace is all around us. According to one survey of learning and development professionals, only 34% of trainees apply what they’ve learned to the workplace one year after a training intervention (Saks & Belcourt, 2006).

Yet much research supports the fact that learning transfer improves when one’s workplace provides the right kind of support. So what are we waiting for? There are many ways your organization can have an impact.

You can leverage opportunities prior to, during and after training. A few underlying threads that run through workplace support include an acknowledgement that:

  • Learning takes time to apply
  • Training must be more than a one-time event
  • Learning is a social process
  • Learning often happens informally

Go For a Positive Transfer Climate

Transfer climate refers to the conditions in the work environment that inhibit or enable newly learned skills, knowledge and attitudes back on the job. A positive environment that promotes learning transfer provides: a strong alignment between the training program and the organization’s goals; various opportunities to apply new knowledge and skills; positive consequences when new skills are used and social support from peers and supervisors.

Let’s look at some practical guidelines you can implement in your workplace.

Frame the Training

Studies show that a person’s attitude prior to training determines his or her motivation to transfer learning to the job. In fact, pre-training motivation to learn and to apply new knowledge and skills is a predictor of post-training transfer. Organizations can influence motivation by framing upcoming learning experiences in a favorable light.

You can promote learner readiness with these strategies:

  • Be clear as to whether training is mandatory or voluntary
  • Provide realistic information prior to training
  • Allow trainees to provide input
  • Communicate the company’s expectations

Even before an employee engages in a formal learning experience, your organization can promote or hinder transfer motivation.

Make It Relevant

A person’s motivation to transfer training back to the job is shaped during the learning experience. It comes as no surprise that when trainees perceive learning as relevant, useful, and valuable, they are more likely to apply their newly learned skills. Some factors that influence the perception of training as valuable include:

  • Acknowledgement that the trainee needs to improve his or her job performance
  • Belief that the new skills will improve job performance
  • Practicality and ease of transferring skills to improve performance

Create a Culture of Learning

Encourage your organization to promote the importance of learning at work as a value. A culture of learning promotes both formal and informal learning, It acknowledges that employees need opportunities to try out newly learned skills and that mastery or competence takes time. It’s possible that creating a culture of learning will reduce resistance to change, because change is an inevitable part of learning and performance improvement.

Supervisory Support

Supervisor support is an important dimension of the social aspect of learning. It refers to the extent that managers and supervisors reinforce and promote the use of new skills on the job. Training transfer is facilitated when trainees perceive that supervisors are supportive in this way. An important qualifier here is that when supervisors are coercive, it wipes away the effect. Ways for managers and supervisors to promote transfer are to:

  • Participate in training events
  • Allow trainees to contribute and provide input to training
  • Discuss new learning and how to apply it
  • Provide coaching, encouragement and feedback
  • Hold trainees accountable for using new skills

Peer Support

Support from peers and colleagues is another important dimension of the social aspect of learning. Peer support may be even more important than supervisory support in promoting training transfer. Organizations can promote peer support by encouraging:

  • Peer support networks
  • Work group discussions to share ideas about newly learned knowledge and skills
  • Participation in internal and external communities of practice
  • Opportunities for mentoring

In summary, learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You can have an impact on changing the course of failed training by providing a workplace brimming with support.

How does your workplace support training? Answer in the Comments.

References and Sources:

  1. Burke, L.A. and Hutchins, H.M. Training Transfer: an integrative literature review. Human Resource Development Review Vol. 6, No. 3 September 2007.
  2. Cromwell, S.E. and Kolg, J. An Examination of Work-Environment Support Factors Affecting Transfer of Supervisory Skills Training to the Workplace, Human Resource Development Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 4, Winter 2004.
  3. Gegenfurtner, A. et. al., Integrative Literature Review: Motivation to Transfer Training: A nIntegrative Literature Review. Human Resource Development Review, September 2009.
  4. Saks, A. M. and Belcourt, M. An investigation of training activities and transfer of training in organizations. Human Resource Management, Winter 2006.

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