Getting learners to apply their learning in their workplaces is the biggest challenge facing trainers.
The Problem of Training Transfer
“Transfer of training”, as it relates to workplace training, refers to the use put by training participants of the skills and knowledge they learned to their actual work practices. (Note that it is sometimes referred to as “transfer of learning”.) Why is this considered so important for managers and training professionals? Consider the following two workplace training scenarios.
John, the Executive Director, caught a number of employees smoking in the lunchroom in spite of the company’s no-smoking policy. He instructed the Human Resources department to send all employees on a training session covering the no-smoking policy. Two weeks after the training session, John exploded talking with the Human Resources Manager, “I found a Production Team Leader smoking in the Foyer. That training cost us a packet. You were supposed to fix the problem!”
In another company, a new inventory system was installed. Employees in the Purchasing Department were sent off to learn the new software. One month later, the Purchasing Manager finds that only two out of the twelve Purchasing Officers are using the new system. The expected cost savings have not materialized and the Purchasing Manager resolves to take issue with the Training Manager at the next weekly meeting.
Does this sound familiar? Experts estimate that somewhat less that twenty percent of training investments lead to some organizational benefit. This anomaly is commonly referred to as the “problem of training transfer”. Why is it that such a small proportion of training ends up being used back in the workplace? With increasing marketplace competition, leaner resources and a greater focus on tangible outcomes, more and more managers are asking this question.
Transfer of Training Factors
How can you increase the transfer of training in your organization? For any given training program, you will need to look into three areas:
training participant attributes (intelligence, attitudes)
training program design and delivery
What can you do to enhance the positive impact of each of these factors? Training participant attributes may be influenced when introducing new employees to your organization through an effective recruitment, selection and induction process. Attributes can also be influenced before training begins through pre-qualifying nominees during the registration process.
The second factor, training design and delivery, can be made more effective through ensuring that the training program objectives are clearly focused on your organization’s priorities and goals. Tied in with this, participants’ learning outcomes must be stated in terms of behavior required in the workplace and measurable performance standards. To help you with aligning learning outcomes with organizational objectives, review my practical guide, Writing Learning Outcomes.
Along with effective design, to maximize training transfer to the workplace ensure that the training is delivered in accordance with what we know about how adults learn best. My Trainer Effectiveness Rating Form included within my Training Management Template Pack is a useful tool that can help you here.
The most significant, yet most neglected, factor influencing the extent of training transfer is the third area mentioned above, the employee’s workplace environment. What happens before employees attend the training event and what happens after they return to work are the most important variables determining workplace performance following training. If your organization is struggling to see tangible benefits from training, ask yourself these key questions of your last training program:
Did instructional designers, trainers and line managers work together in partnership or was work on the program done in isolation with little collaboration?
Were non-training solutions seriously considered or was a training request received and an off-the-shelf solution delivered?
Were training outcomes stated in behavior and performance terms or were outcomes unstated or stated in fuzzy terms?
Were training objectives tied to stated organizational objectives or were they left floating in the organizational ether?
Were managers and supervisors actively involved before, during and after the program or was the program divorced from the employee’s day to day work?
Was post-training support provided back in the workplace, such as coaching and on-the-job aids, or were employees left to flounder with no opportunity to practice?
Were new procedures and role expectations clearly communicated to employees or were they left wondering why they were nominated for the program?
Were workplace performance expectations agreed with employees prior to the training, or was it back to “business as usual”?
Was the training integrated with a well thought-out and implemented change or improvement program, or was the training a single point “silver bullet” solution?
Did you measure the organizational impact of the program or rely solely on “happy sheets” for feedback?
The PRACTICE Approach™ to Training Transfer
I have consolidated the various attitudes and activities required for maximum transfer into an easy to remember and use model. I call this method the PRACTICE Approach™. By focussing on each of the eight key elements, organizations can be assured of maximizing their training investments. These eight key elements of the PRACTICE Approach™ to improving the transfer of training can be summarized as follows:
say how to perform and why
- update relevant policies and procedures before training begins
- use actual policy and procedural documents during training
- Roles & Responsibilities
say what level of performance is required
- clarify role responsibilities and update relevant role descriptions
- link learning outcomes to role descriptions
- Aids on the job
extend the training room into the workplace
- replicate training aids on the job
- encourage employees to use on-the-job aids
overcomes individual barriers to skill application
- plan for and dedicate on-the-job coaching resources
- train coaches in how to coach effectively
and measurement proves people are performing
- agree and set measurable organizational and individual goals
- link program learning outcomes to organizational and individual goals
- translate goals into required on-the-job behaviors
give a personal reason to perform
- modify incentives to reward goal achievement and expected behaviors
- provide employee feedback frequently and using a variety of methods
informs and involves all stakeholders
- communicate information to all appropriate levels in organization
- use a variety of communication mediums and styles
motivates participants to apply skills
- brief employees before training on purpose and application of program
- managers and supervisors introduce training and attend sessions
- review learning after training and identify opportunities for skill application
- follow up regularly progress on skill application with employee