People Meeting Seminar Office Concept

Transfer Skills (Not Just Knowledge)

Sunday, June 30, 2019

How much time and energy are your subject matter experts (SMEs) spending on long presentations in an attempt to train employees on new policies, products, and standard operating procedures but without having a significant impact on skills and behaviors? How often is there only minimal change in application, resulting in the need for retraining? What is lost by not delivering effective learning the first time?

SMEs deliver great presentations, but they are not trainers. To be successful, they need to acquire some fundamental learning and development (L&D) principles and practices. There is a big difference between presentations and training, yet after delivering workshops for more than 20 years, in 40 countries, across six continents, we are still surprised at how often organizations’ “training” programs end up being nothing more than long PowerPoint presentations.

Three key challenges exist in effectively transferring skills versus knowledge in organizations:

  • While training theories and methodologies have been around for a long time, our experience indicates that in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, individuals in L&D roles are still struggling to gain access to these powerful processes and often don’t know tools exist to support their work.
  • Promotions bring high-potential employees into the L&D function despite that they don’t have a background in L&D.
  • While not as common in North America, in other parts of the world there are still challenges to transferring knowledge online because the technology is not being leveraged effectively to engage learners, and virtual training is still predominantly a one-way dialogue.

When we work with SMEs and inquire about how they build their training sessions, what models of instructional design they use, and how they construct learning objectives, they often stare at us in confusion. They show us their PowerPoint presentation as proof of their expertise. It’s usually a long presentation packed with small-sized text on each slide but no activities. They inform us they present their training over Zoom or Skype for Business in 90 minutes and are surprised when they don’t achieve the results they were hoping for.

Does this example sound familiar? Have you ever attended a “training” session like this?

While those of us in L&D cringe at the thought of this experience, most SMEs don’t realize how far off the mark they are when it comes to engaging learners and transferring skills. This leads us to believe that we still struggle with helping SMEs understand the difference between knowledge transfer and learning.


Knowing something and being able to demonstrate a new skill are different things, which SMEs haven’t been coached to distinguish. When SMEs “tell” they transfer knowledge, but when they “engage” they create learning. Our role in L&D is to help SMEs be more effective in delivering training and shift away from knowledge transfer presentation toward experiential learning. While there are cultural considerations in how materials are presented and what types of activities are appropriate, how we learn is not culturally specific.

We can agree that learning is important and that spending our time, energy, and money wisely is paramount. Following those tenets allows those of us in L&D to uphold our professional reputation. It is critical when training occurs that it be highly effective, otherwise it reflects poorly on us regardless of the country we work in. We need a global understanding of how to transfer learning and how to support SMEs.

The future will require an increased focus on talent development, which ensures more of a need for L&D—and qualified, trained, successful SMEs—than ever. The challenge is finding time for employees to participate in learning. Everyone is time-crunched, and we end up putting the “training” into a presentation (whether delivered in person or virtually). We assume people will know how to apply what we have told them. When they don’t, senior leaders are confused about why employees aren’t compliant. But the employees didn’t learn anything at the presentation; they simply gained some new information. Left to figure out how to implement or apply the new knowledge on their own, it’s either not done, not properly understood, or not remembered.


So how do we create transformational learning events? How can we provide learning that truly helps team members improve what they do?

We can start by creating learning events that engage not just people’s minds but also their hearts. This requires both the science of adult learning and the art of creativity in the design process. When done correctly, the results are a powerful experience that sets employees up for success to be able to know and do more. This means having SMEs attend training sessions that mirror the way we want them to train others. It means teaching them the basics of instructional design and foundational delivery techniques.

Evaluate your SME’s success as a facilitator of learning versus a presenter of knowledge. Consider, do they:

  • Understand the difference between a presentation and training?
  • Create a training event that encourages participation and the opportunity to discuss and experience the learning?
  • Include engaging activities, examples, and stories that apply the concepts to real-world examples and situations?
  • Choose the right method, time, and content to appeal to a virtual and multi-cultural audience?

To learn more, attend our webinar Knowledge Transfer vs. Training: How to Transfer Skills, Not Just Knowledge, in Today’s Digital Age on September 9 at 10 a.m. ET.

About the Author

As managing partner of Global Training Transformation, Giselle is dedicated to building learning and development strategies that help clients target, motivate and engage employees to increase performance and productivity. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 11 of the top Fortune 100 companies, including Cisco, Chevron, Freddie Mac, Home Depot, and TJX, as well as federal government agencies and not-for-profit organizations. Over 75,000 people globally have attended her workshops or presentations. With over 20 years of experience in learning and development, she has devoted more than sixteen years to researching the motivations and expectations that different generations have regarding learning, development, career growth and performance improvement.

Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills and completed Canada’s first national survey on Generation Z.

As a talent development expert, Giselle is regularly quoted in national publications and appears on television and radio. Giselle has a Master’s degree in Communication Studies from the University of Windsor, where she focused on instructional design, adult learning and cross-cultural communication. She is a board member of the Institute for Performance & Learning and member of the Association for Talent Development and The Society for Human Resource Management.

About the Author

Susan Armstrong is managing partner at Global Training Transformation. In the last 20+ years Susan has spoken in over 40 countries on 6 continents, developed and trained over 500 workshops, and helped over 150,000 people around the world transform their personal and professional lives.
Susan is an instructional designer and master trainer specializing in designing programs that improve the organizational and employee performance. Her programs have won the CSTD Gold Award for Excellence in Training (Vendor Category), as well as having a leadership program custom designed for a Central Asian client named as one of the top 5 Leadership programs in the world by

She has worked with global leaders, including Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Philips, SABIC, Islamic Development Bank, EFES to design global training programs in a wide range of topics. Her experience ranges from Healthcare, Medical Devices, Banking, Mining, Pharma, Timber, Oil & Gas as well as training the Federal Ministries of several foreign nations.

Susan is the author of two books, a previous talk-radio show host and regular media guest. Whether Susan is working with an audience of 15 senior leaders or presenting at a conference for 5000, she is able to captivate and motivate the audience with her unique and entertaining style. She is a member of the Association for Talent Development and a fellow with the Global Speakers Federation.

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I have worked as a technical trainer for a multi-national semiconductor corporation for 24 years. We have a well structured program that combines web-based basic principle, instructor-led content specific theory, and hands-on practical application. Our challenge is when expert field engineers are brought in to deliver a few classes to meet a short-term need.
How do you suggest quickly training a technical expert to teach developed material?
Hi David, you are not alone in this challenge, that's for sure! We (Global Training Transformation) are doing a webinar with ATD on Monday, September 9. You can join that as we will be discussing exactly this question.
Also, may I ask, your developed material - do you have leaders guides to go along with the workshop? This often helps "guest" trainers to follow the format and ensure interaction takes place. Don't hesitate to contact us with any questions, we are happy to help!
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