Maximizing Transfer of Training - Transfer of Learning
Harold D. Stolovitch
Why do we train? Simple question. Complex response. The obvious answer is so that people can perform well in their jobs. However, the reality of training is often quite different. Mixed in are such factors as career enhancement, competitive edge, reward/punishment for past deeds and myriad other reasons.
From a human performance technology perspective, training is appropriate for overcoming skill or knowledge (S/K) gaps. These gaps can occur because of new job requirements - hence new skills or knowledge are needed - or because current performance is insufficient due to missing S/K.
Assuming that there is a S/K gap, we target suitable populations, develop programs and send people to training. Figure 1 shows anticipated results of these efforts. Since training is a costly venture that consumes resources and removes workers from productive tasks, we expect the anticipated improved performance to significantly exceed costs. Reality, however, is usually very different, as illustrated in Figure 2. Most studies on transfer of training to the job, where the participants are supposed to apply new learning, reveal disappointing results.
Here are two typical quotes from the literature:
"American industries annually spend more than $100 billion on training not more than 10% of the expenditures actually result in transfer to the job." (Baldwin & Ford, 1988.) (This finding was reconfirmed by Ford & Weissbein, 1997.)
"Most of the investment in organizational training...is wasted because most of the knowledge and skills gained...(well over 80 percent by some estimates) is not fully applied by those employees on the job. (Broad & Newstrom, 1992.)
Why these dismal results?
Stolovitch and Maurice (1998) examined the transfer of training literature and conducted studies in the work environment. They found that causes of wasted training expenditures included: poor selection of persons to attend training (they will never have the opportunity to apply the training); lack of clear expectations from supervisors; lack of on-job support; lack of post-training monitoring; lack of resources to implement new skills; lack of incentives to apply new S/K. These are similar to what Newstrom (1985) also uncovered: lack of reinforcement on the job; interference from the immediate work environment; non-supportive organizational culture; trainees' discomfort with change; separation from trainer "inspiration"; trainees' perception of poorly designed training; peer pressure to resist applying new S/K.
So what can we do about this?
Is the cause hopeless? Should organizations abandon training? The answer to both these questions is a resounding "No"! With continuous - even mounting - pressure to improve performance, organizations must evolve beyond the notion that an injection of training will achieve performance results. As with vitamins, workers rapidly eliminate from their systems most of the injected material.
Here are some actions organizations can take to enhance transfer of training:
Training when properly selected, developed, delivered and supported can be a powerful means for achieving desired performance goals. The sad fact is that most training is poorly conceived and implemented. In the push for quick fixes, the waste from lack of transfer is enormous. By taking appropriate actions such as the ones suggested in this article, we can achieve astounding transfer success.
© 2000 Harold D. Stolovitch & Erica J. Keeps
© 2000 - 2015 Harold D. Stolovitch & Erica J. Keeps