How to Increase Training Transfer to the Workplace

Research shows a variety of factors leading to most of learning being wasted. These factors include poor learning design and delivery, inadequate or no training evaluation, personal characteristics (such as motivation, confidence, or self-efficacy), and work environment (i.e., supervisor support and peer mentors). This article draws on existing research and my doctoral dissertation to outline a practical learning blueprint on increasing training transfer. You can use this learning blueprint to enhance your training practices to maximize training transfer.

Do not assume full responsibility of transfer on learners!


1. Design training that promotes training transfer to the workplace
One of the most basic barriers to transfer of learning to the workplace is overlooking it in design and facilitation phases. The goal of training is to create sustainable changes in behavior and cognition so that individuals possess the competencies they need to perform a job.

Carry out a thorough needs analysis

  • The first step in any training design is needs analysis. Find out from subject-matter experts (SMEs) and stakeholders what “problem” the intended training solves, what needs to be trained, for whom, and within what type of organizational system. The outcomes of this step are a learning goal, expected performance objectives, guidance for training design and delivery, and information about factors that will facilitate or hinder training effectiveness.
  • Next, find out about the learners’ level of experience. In my study, new graduates outperformed the highly experienced nurses in doing a procedural task on the job. This could have been because nurses with more than 20 years of experience had to perform the same task (which had been automatized) differently prior to joining the new hospital. Training for novices should be different than training for more advanced learners.

Use result-driven design informed by evidence
  • Do a job or task analysis for the start. Work closely with your SMEs to learn about the complexity of tasks and sub-tasks; break down the tasks into knowledge, decision making, and sub-tasks that form the final task. Design from easy to difficult (with options to skip easy ones by more advanced learners) to maintain motivation and avoid “reversal effect”
  • Conditions in training should be very similar to those on the job – Use real-based scenarios and simulations that replicate real-based context in that transfer from training to real-world job is primarily determined by similarity in those tasks or environmental aspects that are critical for performance of the real task and environment
  • If teamwork skills (applicable to most jobs) are identified as one of the competencies, include group-based activities to promote peer learning and use peer evaluation as much as possible
  • In every step of your design process, rely on cognitive science and learning principles and strategies that make learning stick
  • If PowerPoint presentations are used for in-person training, apply principles of multimedia learning, cognitive load theory, element interactivity, retrieval practice, and ICAP framework (interactive, constructive, active, passive) to cognitively engage learners (see the list below)
  • Apply learning strategies or techniques such as testing effect, spaced practice, elaborative interrogation, interleaved practice, and summarization in your training design

Design a learning journey that takes the learner to “during” and “after” training
Learning is a “process” not an “event” and it takes time for competencies to be built in a continuum.
  • Create job-aids that learner can refer to when needed on the job
  • Recommend shadowing of senior workmates (mentors) after training
  • Design observation evaluation forms or checklists by which supervisors can assess learners on the job – follow up and review the forms/checklists to learn about training transfer and if any remedial plans are needed
  • Develop robust and authentic assessments that assess performance of tasks and sub-tasks
  • Use real-based scenarios and demonstration of skills in a virtual or in-person setting
  • Use feedback in all activities and assessments, esp. ‘showing feedback’ through which the learner can see the consequence of their choices or decisions

2. Evaluate the effectiveness of your training
  • Do not rely on self-report surveys (smile sheets) only
  • Use a combination of assessments (these are assessments that you developed during your design stage) and learner surveys
  • Run follow-up surveys, text/phone interviews, or focus groups with learners (depending on your resources)
  • Administer surveys to their supervisors (if needed)
  • If you aim to measure the impact of your training, create a logic model in discussion with key stakeholders to define the impact to be measured

3. Consider trainee characteristics
While learner motivation and self-efficacy are not entirely in your hands, having extensive knowledge of theory of motivation and applying it to your design can make a difference. Also, try to identify the existing gaps (such as knowledge, skills, motivation) from your stakeholders, and if possible, learners and target audience (by this I’m referring to the population that your learners provide service to)

4. Look into trainee’s work environment
  • Work closely with your SMEs and stakeholders to find out about the existing practices, processes, and gaps at trainee’s workplace (you would have done this step in your needs analysis). This will give you insights into designing a learning journey that won’t end at the training.
  • Reach out to supervisors and learners sometime after training to see if learners are doing better because of training and if they receive support from supervisors and peers – these data will inform you of improvements to your training design as part of your training evaluation. Evidence shows that lack of support from supervisors to apply learned skills can affect transfer.
  • Do your regular check-ins with learners as part of your training evaluation (agreed with stakeholders early on) so that learners would respond to you (this depends on the culture of an organization that is open to learning & development and feedback though)


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