Training Transfer - Training and Development

This focuses on transfer of learning. Although there are multiple definitions of transfer, it is generally agreed that the transfer of learning involves the application, generalization, and maintenance of new knowledge and skills (Ford and Weissbe in 1997). Training and development professionals have traditionally focused on learning as an outcome, and mostly on learning design as their way to influence outcomes.

Performance-oriented training and development fundamentally changes this. In fact, we endorse the following statements:

  • The transfer of learning into job performance is just as important, if not more important, than learning.
  • Without attention to transfer, good learning often results in no return to the organization.
  • Transfer can be managed and improved, but it requires T&D professionals to influence organizational factors that may be out of their direct control.
  • Without transfer, training fails.

Consider these examples. An accountant returns from a training program and reports to his colleagues that there is no way this new system will work in their culture. A woman applies the model of leadership she recently learned at a training session and her supervisor criticizes her "new way of doing things."

A Plant operator reports that the training was excellent but didn't fit the realities of their production unit. In these examples, neither training program produced positive job performance changes, but these employees were not struggling with or complaining about the training they had attended. Rather,the challenges they faced arose when they turned their attention to transferring their new learning to on-the-job performance. The outcome for all three of these employees was most likely frustration, confusion, and a diminished opportunity to apply improved ways of doing their work.

This scope of the problem is magnified when one analyzes recent statistics that indicate investment in training activities aimed at improving employees' job performance represents a huge financial expenditure in the United States.

In 2001, organization shaving more than one hundred employees were estimated to have spent over $68billion in direct costs on formal training (Training Magazine 2002). With the inclusion of indirect costs, informal on-the-job training, and costs incurred by smaller organizations, total training expenditures could easily reach $200billion or more annually. Of this expenditure, as little as 10 percent is estimated to pay off in performance improvements resulting from the transfer of learned knowledge, skills, and abilities to the job (Baldwin and Ford 1988).Our experience in workshops is that most managers estimate that about 25percent of training transfers into job performance. Although the exact amount of transfer is unknown, the transfer problem is believed to be so pervasive that there is rarely a learning-performance situation in which such a problem does not exist (Broad and New strom 1992). The cost to organizations is huge. If only 25 percent transfers, then $51 billion are wasted! Even if 50 percent transfers, that still leaves $34 billion down the drain.

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