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Learning transfer: how to improve it and increase the value of learning (2)

Learning transfer: a reminder

Last week, we wrote an article about the learning transfer and its utmost value at the level of organizations and their training programs. We told you about the importance of learning transfer, the forgetting curves phenomenon, and a few methods you can use to make it happen. However, we think that this is a complex topic which deserves more attention, so here we are, telling you more about learning transfer and how you can maximize the outcomes of your learning experiences. 

In their book, The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning, Roy Pollock and Andy Jefferson said that “learning transfer is the process of putting learning to work in a way that improves performance”, highlighting the fact that when a training program is followed by learning transfer, it actually leads to professional results. This means that managers and learning and development specialists should direct their efforts towards reinforcing the training on the job, encouraging employees to actually apply the knowledge they have gathered to working contexts that are relevant to them. 

The relationship between learning transfer and performance

Let’s think about it this way: why do companies organize training programs in the first place? Most probably because there's new technology, new business requirements to be met, new processes, certain skill gaps that interfere with the employees’ ability to effectively perform their jobs, and so on. 

However, if the training process, no matter how effective and well designed it is, is not immediately followed by learning transfer, there’s no return on investment. Learners will not be able to deal with the new technologies, processes, business models, and even if they have some new knowledge they will soon forget it if they do not apply it. To put it differently, efforts should be made not only before and during the training process, but especially after it. 

Actually, some specialists think that the training in itself requires less effort than the other two stages, as  Robert Brinkerhoff and Anne M. Apking stated in their book, High Impact Learning.

They talk about the amount of effort needed for the development of each stage of the learning process, stating that 40% of it should be spent before the training, focusing on finding the learning needs, goals and motivation, 20% of effort should be spent during the learning program itself, on learning materials, instruction, instructors, and 40% of effort should be spent after the training, to ensure that the outcomes are met and the learning transfer is not forgotten. That implies feedback processes, on the job implementation and finding organizational obstacles. 

Implementing learning transfer

In the previous article, we talked about establishing clear learning outcomes, using multiple learning formats and practicing generalization. Another aspect that can impact learning transfer is the extent to which the trainer is aware of the learners’ working environment. Trainers are not just professionals who deliver some knowledge and skills on a topic they master, they are much more than that.

Before actually delivering a training program,  they should be aware of the behavioral objectives of the learning program and the context in which learners will apply the theory. Why is this important? Because this way, the trainer can actually simulate the work environment, showing employees where exactly they could apply the knowledge, and thus fostering learning transfer. 

Also, another way of measuring the impact of a learning program is provided by the Kirkpatrick Model, which involves four levels of evaluation:

  • Level 1: reaction, focusing on the degree to which the learners find the learning program valuable to their jobs and engaging;
  • Level 2: learning, focusing on the degree to which employees have acquired the intended knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes;
  • Level 3: behaviors, highlighting focusing on the learning transfer itself, by evaluating the degree to which trainees apply what they learned during the training on their jobs;
  • Level 4: results, paying attention to whether or not the initial training outcomes have been achieved. 

To wrap-it-up, learning transfer is highly influenced by the way organizations manage on the job following activities, trainers understand the actual professional contexts and behavioral changes that are expected after the training, and learners are aware of the objectives and the way in which they can further apply the knowledge. Also, learning transfer further influences productivity, knowledge retention and the extent to which learning outcomes are met. 

Some (final) thoughts

We’d like to hear from you. How do you foster learning transfer across your organization? How important is it for you to make sure knowledge transfer is actually happening after a training program?

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