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The Transfer of Learning from the Course to the Desk: 6 Keys to Success

 “All the training in the world does not mean a thing, unless there is true transfer!”

—Elliott Masie, CEO, The MASIE Center’s Learning CONSORTIUM

Can learners do it in the real world? Can they actually apply knowledge in practice? Here lies the concept of learning transfer, which basically means the ability to effectively apply learning in a training context to the job.

The problem, according to educational researchers, is the lack of learning transfer. A Detterman and Sternberg research, in fact, revealed that a pitiable percentage (less than 10%) of training gets successfully transferred in the real world. Little new knowledge or insight is ever applied on the job. Other studies confirm that only a small percetage of training participants actually change their behavior. It's estimated that most training investments (between 70-90%) are wasted. 

There are many factors behind the complex process of learning transfer:

  • Intent or motivation of the learner (individual characteristics)
  • The workplace environment
  • The instructional design of the training program.
  • Commitment of trainees to apply new knowledge and skills

While you’re not wholly responsible for the lack of learning transfer, you are in unique position to help learners make the most out of their lessons. Remember, it’s not about what people know—it's about what they can do with what they know. It's your job as an effective instructional designer to help learners make the leap from knowing to doing. Here’s how you can do it.


1) Teach Students When and How to Use a Skill

Don’t just focus on the “how.” Learners may have acquired new skills and learned knew concepts. But all of that isn’t useful if they don’t know “when” to apply it. That’s why you need to place problems in context. Give them specific workplace examples so that they can bring their lessons to the job.

2) Focus On Meaning, Not Facts

An eLearning course that’s heavy on memorization is not only boring; it also blocks students from seeing the real-world application of skill or workplace relevance of a topic.

Aim for meaning instead. Help students understand how important their lessons are to improving or refining their work. Help them make sense of their situation and see the bigger picture. Having a deeper understanding of a topic helps students transfer.

3) Teach With Realistic Examples

Start with a real problem. Students learn best from realistic examples and transfer the lessons well. This is especially true when the new problem sounds similar to the old problem. Learners can see the common elements but they are able to solve the new problem creatively. Teaching from examples is better—concepts are easier to understand in the context of a real problem than in an abstract one. 

4) Help Students Connect the Dots

Let them see how the new information connects to their prior knowledge. Students can only successfully transfer their learning once they’re able to connect all the dots. That is, integrate what they’re learning with what they already know. Students who integrate new knowledgee with what they already know, understand much better than students who do not.. 

5) Encourage Active Learning

Involve the learners. This is essential for transfer to occur. Turn from them passive observers into active participants. Once involved, learners are able to recognize and solve problems in other new contexts. They can, for instance, apply a solution or skill learned during their training on the job

6) Help Students Retain Crucial Information

Most of them time, students are willing to apply a new set of skills or use a new approach on the job. The problem is, they just can’t. They can no longer recall what they’ve just learned.

Help them remember new information through mnemonic devices. Break down larger pieces of content into steps, stages, chapters, parts or whatnot. The idea is to simplify complex information in order to facilitate easier recall.


Learning isn’t a single, isolated event. What happens before, during and after the training all contribute to the success or failure of learning transfer. This is why pre-training preparation and on-the-job practice, and post-training are crucial parts of the process.

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Karla Gutierrez

Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT. ES:Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT.

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