ATD Blog

7 Quotes to Get You Over the Most Common Learning Transfer Hurdles

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Anyone working in learning and development wants to get the best results from training initiatives. Yet, most experts agree that only 10 to 20 percent of training knowledge is implemented in the workplace. So why doesn’t transfer of learning happen?

Well, there are some hurdles, with the biggest obstacle being not knowing what those hurdles are. So, supported by the words of some famous—and not so famous—people, here are some tips to help you avoid stumbling over hurdles on the road to successful learning transfer.

“Plans are of little importance; but planning is essential.”—Winston Churchill

Don’t plan for action planning, make it a priority. Most training plans include action planning, but it’s often skimmed over when the time comes. Dismissing action planning is a sure-fire way to prevent successful learning transfer. Make action planning during training an absolute requirement. This is non-negotiable.

“Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.”—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Spend time on the “why.” Participants can be cynical about something new; they need to understand the importance of their action plan by understanding what business results the organization is hoping to achieve. For many, it’s not the personal goal that keeps us motivated, but the why behind the goal that keeps us moving forward. Ensure participants are really clear on the why before starting their action plan.

“We all need to get the balance right between action and reflection.”—Queen Elizabeth II, 2013 Christmas Message


Allow time for reflection—Queens’ orders! Reflection is at the heart of effective learning transfer, and not just during the program. It’s just as important to make time for reflection following actual training. Whether it’s reviewing successes and progress over coffee or a reflective conversation with a colleague, be sure to schedule time for reflection.

“The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.”—Dwight D. Eisenhower

Support the manager, don’t blame them. The manager typically is the default person responsible for ensuring that transfer of learning happens, but are they the right person. What’s more, should they really be blamed if they’re not qualified? Truly effective learning transfer occurs within very specific conditions, with participants being taken through a precise process with a specialist. While some managers may have the skills to do this, in most cases, they will not be the best person. L&D managers need to ensure participants have access to the correct coaching support and that managers understand their role in the process.

“Nobody ever washes a rental car.”—Origin Unknown


Create ownership for transfer of learning. If nobody owns it, no one will make sure it happens. Decide who’s responsible for scheduling coaching sessions and ensuring that the reflection and reviews occur. The person taking ownership needs to be qualified in learning transfer. Think creatively, how can L&D managers own this process? Do you have resources available, or do you need to outsource?

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”—Sun Tzu

Don’t ignore learning transfer! It simply doesn’t happen on its own—attending a training course and learning the “tactics” is not enough to win the battle. Learning transfer gives you a strategy to use the tactics you have learned and make a difference in the workplace.

“Work hard in silence. Let success be your noise.”—Frank Ocean, Singer/Songwriter

Share stories and wins with others. Successful learning transfer means that changes in behavior and positive business outcomes were achieved. These will take many guises, from tangible sales increases through to observed managerial improvements. Evaluating these changes and sharing them is critical for participants, managers, and business stakeholders. Although the road to achieving individual change is a one-on-one process between a participant and their coach, the results are for the organization to learn from and celebrate.

And so I leave you with this final quote for why learning transfer is important: “Just as pole vaulters use a pole to catapult themselves over a horizontal bar, learning can propel an individual forward and upward.”—Emma Weber, Lever

About the Author

Emma Weber is CEO and founder of Lever – Transfer of Learning and author of Turning Learning into Action: A Proven Methodology for Effective Transfer of Learning (2014, Kogan Page).  Emma's firm belief, and the platform on which she has built her successful global business, is that the key aim of learning in the workplace is to create tangible business benefits. She established Lever – Transfer of Learning and the Turning Learning into Action™ (TLA) methodology to help organizations and their employees convert learning to effective action back on the job. Users of the new TLA methodology include Coca-Cola Amatil, Google, BMW, Apple, Jaguar Landrover, Colgate, Cisco, Nokia, and Subaru. A recognized authority on the transfer of learning, Emma has been a guest speaker on learning effectiveness at conferences in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and the USA. Emma’s second book, Making Change Work: How to Create Behavioural Change in Organizations to Drive Impact and ROI, co-authored with Jack and Patti Phillips of the ROI Institute, was published on May 2016 by Kogan Page.

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