Improve your learning transfer

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Learning transfer has been a tireless thorn in the side of the Learning and Development profession.

However, make no mistake, investing in learning transfer yields big returns.

Recent studies demonstrate significant increases in the use of skills, resulting from well-designed, efficient learning transfer activities.

According to this recent research, there are three critical areas where organizations can improve learning transfer. These are:

  • learner readiness
  • design for transfer and
  • organizational alignment

If a learning initiative is designed to address these three elements, the research showed learning transfer can be increased by as much as 180%, with only modest cost increases.

It is this ROI that is required to enhance the productivity and, as a result, profitability of your organization. It is also this return on investment that will demonstrate the effectiveness and importance of your programs, giving you the ongoing budget and resources required to continue the good work.

However, often little attention and time is paid to a training event’s learning transfer rate. This could be because:

  • There is no business imperative, measuring system or accountability regarding learning transfer
  • It is assumed that the learners will attend to it in their own time
  • There are no supportive workplace structures, process or policies in place to ensure  transfer of learning
  • There is no opportunity to apply and therefore get feedback on the learning
  • There is no senior management involvement or support
  • All of the above

Like most things, if learning transfer does not get measured, it won’t get noticed. Therefore to improve learning transfer, metrics, (and psychometrics are great for this), combined with a system of accountability, need to be applied.

The focus should be on actual performance outcomes aligned to organizational objectives and goals. If this is the case, you are far more likely to secure the senior management sponsorship pivotal in the learning transfer process. Combine this with a program to:

  • Upskill managers so they are resourced to support the learning process (often coaching skills help here)
  • Encourage peer sharing and support
  • Enact supportive policies and processes
  • Have senior management lead by example (acquiring and modeling new skills and/or behaviours in their  own work)
  • Use mistakes as learning opportunities

Then you are well on the way to creating and sustaining a learning organization.

Daniel Goleman, acclaimed author of The Brain & Emotional Intelligence - New Insights, would go one step further. He would suggest that learning effectively requires a significant amount of self knowledge and understanding. If your learner has this as their base, you are working from the correct premise to go forward. Here appropriate psychometric assessments come in handy to assist your learner to gain the most out of their learning program.

This is not to say that the learner does not have a responsibility themselves. You can create the best learning environment in the world, however if you have a learner who is not ready and/or mot motivated, then you have a fabulous sports car, without a driver. 

Learning from training in isolation is not sustainable. It is learner readiness, design for transfer and organizational alignment that will make the critical difference between your program being a one off event and it being the return on investment it needs to be.

About the author

Julie Pigdon is the business development manager for Team Management Systems Australia (, offering advice on learning and development challenges and issues to professionals across the Asia Pacific region. To learn more about learning transfer for your organization, please come along to the TMS Learning Transfer Roadshow. Contact Julie Pigdon on 3368 2333/ for more information.


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