Four Steps to Ensure Training Transfer
June 13, 2017 by Bill Rosenthal

Gears connecting two heads

If you’ve ever taken a trip to Paris and found your two years of undergraduate French to be utterly useless, you have encountered the training transfer problem. Your French classes may have been excellent and your teacher dedicated, but once you left school (or even the course), the environment encouraged skills decay.

The transfer of training, i.e., the application of new skills back on the job, depends more on post-training variables than it does on the quality of training. When conditions back on the job inhibit the transfer of new skills from an employee training program, the skills don’t get transferred, which is to say they don’t get used.

Experts say there are four steps to create an environment that ensures the transfer of training:

  1. Make sure employees have the time and opportunity to practice their new skills.
  2. Prepare employees’ supervisors to reinforce the new skills and promote their use on the job.
  3. Use debriefings in which the employee explains how the new skill has affected on-the-job experiences.
  4. Provide job aids, libraries, and communities of practice that reinforce the new skills.

Logical CHOICE®, our digital learning platform, in addition to offering a wide array of delivery modes to accommodate different learning styles, overcomes some of the training transfer problem by offering help with step four, the post-training reinforcement step. CHOICE provides learning reinforcement with LearnTO and Spotlight media assets, peer-to-peer learning through social communities, checklists for on-the-job support, and assessments that check for understanding. With CHOICE, in other words, trainees take an important part of the training program with them back to the job. Long after the training program is over, whether the student needs a refresher on a technique, requires a job aid, or wants to discuss a problem with former classmates, CHOICE makes reinforcement possible.

But there isn’t much that CHOICE can do about steps one through three. To implement those steps goes far beyond training. Those steps require real work, and may even demand a look at organizational structure, or at least a look at the organization’s culture and values.

What real-world actions can you take to implement steps one through three? First, don’t think of an employee training program as a discrete event. Think of it as part of a process — the process of performance improvement. A training session is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the improvement. Take responsibility, not just for delivering training to employees, but for supporting the training afterward. 

During system rollouts, for example, arrange training sessions so they occur as near as possible to the time the employees will be using the new system. If the training occurs after they start using the system, you will be creating opportunities for on-the-job failure. If it occurs too early before they start using the system, you’ll run into the undergraduate French problem.

Next, for any kind of training, work with supervisors so they are sensitive to the need for employees to use new skills immediately after training. Supervisors are the ones in the best position to observe the use of new skills and encourage their use.

Finally, create a policy of trainee debriefings. Any employee who receives training should be responsible for explaining, at least to a supervisor, perhaps even to a workgroup or department, how the new skill affects their work on the job.