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ATD Blog

Using Signals to Strengthen Transfer Expectations

Monday, October 30, 2023
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In the world of workplace learning and development, the ultimate goal is not merely to deliver training but to ensure that it translates into tangible results on the job. This process of transferring newly acquired knowledge and skills from the training environment to the workplace is often the litmus test of a successful training program. However, many organizations face challenges in achieving effective transfer of training. Is your organization walking the talk?

Dr. Ina Weinbauer-Heidel brings a crucial transfer barrier to light in her book What Makes Training Really Work. Many organizations may desire transfer, but they (unconsciously) send signals that impede it. In this blog post, I will dissect these signals and explore how organizations can change them to support, rather than hinder, transfer expectations.

Signal 1: Congratulations, You Were Physically Present

The first signal that often weakens transfer is the overemphasis on presence in training. It’s common for organizations to recognize and reward employees simply for physically or virtually attending training sessions. It’s like saying, “You’ve been to the training room, great, here is your certificate.” Or in the virtual setting, “You’ve clicked on all the provided videos, great, training succeeded.” Metrics like attendance rates and click-through rates only reinforce this perspective.

Being present should never be a sole indicator of success. It sends the message that just showing up (or clicking around) is the finish line, instead of applying what is learned.

To change this signal to one that supports transfer expectations, organizations can:

  • Link Certification to Application: Instead of issuing certificates solely based on attendance, tie certification to the successful application of the training content. Participants should be required to demonstrate how they’ve applied what they’ve learned to their work.
  • Encourage Application With Transfer Tasks: To support participants in applying their new skills effectively, offer resources and tools. This could include job aids, templates, or access to mentors who can guide them in real-world application. Make the application a mandatory task between the modules, which is then reflected upon in the next module.
  • Plan a Transfer Phase: Training doesn’t end at the seminar room door. Plan for the phase after with follow-ups, sparring sessions, (peer) coaching, and debriefs among participants to encourage them to share how they’ve applied their learning. These touchpoints emphasize that the training’s end is not the finish line; successful application is the actual goal.

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Signal 2: Mandatory Training, Voluntary Transfer Efforts

Organizations often insist on mandatory training, but when it comes to transfer initiatives, they tend to leave them as optional. This sends a message that while training is a must, the follow-up for application is less crucial.

To change this signal to one that supports transfer expectations, organizations can:

  • Enforce Mandatory Transfer Activities: Connect training participation with obligatory transfer actions. Establish a culture where completing the training also means committing to follow through with the transfer process.
  • Standardize Transfer Best Practices: Even in shorter training sessions, implement essential transfer practices, such as setting clear transfer objectives at the start, creating a post-training transfer plan, and conducting regular check-ins on implementation progress.
  • Demand Transfer Support From Trainers: Trainers should be encouraged to support not only during the training but also in the post-training transfer phase. This should be included in their training approach, and organizations should be willing to invest in these transfer measures. Prioritize quality over quantity when it comes to training programs.

Signal 3: High Satisfaction Scores

Organizations often celebrate high participant satisfaction scores as an indicator of successful training. While satisfaction is important, it should not be the primary focus when evaluating training. High satisfaction scores might reflect an enjoyable training experience but do not necessarily indicate effective learning or transfer of skills.

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To change this signal to one that supports transfer expectations, organizations can:

  • Shift Focus to Relevance and Utility: Design feedback forms that prioritize questions related to the relevance and utility of the training content. Ask participants how they plan to apply what they’ve learned and what support they need.
  • Measure Application: Conduct evaluations not only immediately after training, but also 60 days (or an appropriate timeframe) later to assess if participants have successfully applied their learning on the job.
  • Capture Barriers to Transfer: Encourage participants to share any challenges or barriers they face when trying to apply what they’ve learned. This information can help organizations provide targeted support.

Conclusion

In the dynamic landscape of workplace learning and development, actions speak louder than words. It’s not enough for organizations to merely acknowledge the importance of transfer; they must actively demonstrate their commitment to it. Dr. Ina Weinbauer-Heidel’s book, What Makes Training Really Work, sheds light on numerous signals, beyond those discussed here, that influence transfer expectations.

To truly strengthen transfer expectations, organizations must bridge the gap between intention and action. This means moving beyond the surface level and implementing concrete strategies that prioritize application over attendance, mandate transfer measures, and shift the focus toward relevance and utility. By doing so, organizations can create an environment where learning isn’t just an event, but an ongoing process that leads to real, tangible impact in the workplace. Remember, actions are the true indicators of an organization’s dedication to effective transfer. So, is your organization ready to walk the talk?

About the Author

Melanie Martinelli combines her entrepreneurial spirit with her 15+ years of experience in L&D to help build memorable & results-based learning experiences. Being a Certified KP Facilitator and Transfer Enabler, she applies strong business acumen & a deep understanding of what makes learning stick to support clients in being more strategic in their L&D initiatives. Melanie is the co-owner of the Learning Gym, where the focus is on upskilling learning professionals in the field of training design, delivery, and evaluation.

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