Learning transfer refers to the act of applying knowledge and skills learned in one situation to a new situation or context. It is often the goal of workplace training.
Most Training Does Not Transfer
Training that fails to transfer to similar or unique situations in the workplace is too common. 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). If you want to better understand the barriers to learning transfer, see Why is learning transfer so hard?
Transfer of Learning Improves with Support
Yet much research supports the fact that learning transfer improves when the workplace provides the right kind of support. There are many ways your organization can have an impact on the learning transference.
You can leverage opportunities prior to, during and after training. A few important points that underlie 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
Promote 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.
Here are some practical guidelines you can implement in your workplace to improve learning transfer.
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 for Learning Transfer
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
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 supportive workplace. For more on learning transfer, see Wikipedia’s table of Transfer Taxonomies.
References and Sources:
- Burke, L.A. and Hutchins, H.M. Training Transfer: an integrative literature review. Human Resource Development Review Vol. 6, No. 3 September 2007.
- 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.
- Gegenfurtner, A. et. al., Motivation to Transfer Training: An Integrative Literature Review. Human Resource Development Review, September 2009.
- Saks, A. M. and Belcourt, M. An investigation of training activities and transfer of training in organizations. Human Resource Management, Winter 2006.