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    Factors That Affect the Transfer of Learning in the Workplace

    Have you ever noticed that despite spending a lot on training programs, you're not seeing the expected improvements in workplace performance?

    This is a common frustration in the world of corporate learning and development. We invest in these training programs aiming to boost skills and productivity, but too often, the new knowledge and skills don't translate into better performance on the job.

    Let's get into what we mean by learning transfer. It's essentially the application of skills, knowledge, and behaviors from training into the daily tasks of employees.

    It breaks down into three types:

    1. Using previous knowledge to aid new learning: This is when employees use what they already know to understand new material better.

    2. Applying past learning to new situations: This involves using previously acquired skills to navigate new challenges.

    3. Transferring learning to on-the-job tasks: This is where the real payoff happens. It's about employees taking what they've learned from training and applying it directly to their work to enhance performance.

    Despite its importance, this crucial application of training to real-life tasks often falls short. In fact, a report from the Association for Talent Development found that only about 12% of employees effectively apply new skills learned in training to their jobs.

    Moreover, the problem is compounded by a lack of rigorous measurement. According to research by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, only 35% of organizations have formal processes in place to measure the transfer of learning. This absence of systematic evaluation means that many organizations are potentially flying blind, not knowing whether their training investments are genuinely enhancing employee performance or merely adding to costs without clear returns.

    These statistics underline a critical need: a shift towards a more robust and results-oriented approach in training programs.

    In this blog post, we will address why such a significant portion of training fails to be applied in the workplace and how you can turn these insights into actions that not only enhance learning transfer but also deliver measurable improvements to performance.

    By committing to this shift, we aim to bridge the gap between training activities and operational efficacy, ensuring that every dollar spent on development translates into tangible workplace advancements.

    Let’s look at the likely causes of poor training transfer:


    1) Instructional Design Factors 

    Effective instructional design is key to bridging the gap between what learners pick up in training and how they apply it on the job.

    It's not just about getting through the material; it's about engaging with it, playing around with ideas, and using what you learn in a training setup before you're in the hot seat at work.

    Let's break down the Theories of Training to make this more actionable:

    • Theory of Identical Elements: This theory suggests that the closer the training environment mirrors the actual job environment, the better. High fidelity here means a high degree of similarity between learning scenarios and real-life tasks, enhancing what's known as near transfer. For instance, if you're training customer service reps, use real customer interaction scripts and tools they'll use on the job, rather than generic exercises.

    • Stimulus Generalization Approach: Here, the focus is on distilling the essence of what needs to be learned and teaching that effectively. It's about understanding that while the training environment might not always mimic the workplace, the core skills being taught are still applicable. To foster this far transfer, create lessons that highlight how a skill can pivot to various work scenarios.

      For example, critical thinking or problem-solving exercises that allow employees to approach different types of challenges they might encounter. To gauge how well learners can transfer these skills, you might include complex problem-solving tasks that simulate real work problems.

    • Cognitive Theory of Transfer: This theory centers on the mental retention of skills. To improve transfer, it’s crucial to make learning memorable and provide learners with mnemonic devices or other memory aids.

      For example, using the acronym S.M.A.R.T. to teach goal-setting criteria ensures that the steps are easier to recall and apply when setting real work goals. Discussions around potential real-world applications during training can help cement this learning, making it readily accessible when relevant situations arise at work.

    Also read: The 4 Best Tricks to Help Learners Remember Your Content


    2) Learner Factors

    Learner factors are crucial elements that significantly influence the effectiveness of any eLearning course. These factors encompass a range of personal characteristics, from a learner's confidence and motivation to their external challenges like time constraints and workplace support.

    Understanding these factors allows eLearning designers to tailor courses that not only deliver knowledge but also address the specific needs and obstacles that learners might face.

    By recognizing and responding to these diverse aspects, we can create learning environments that foster not just knowledge acquisition, but also confidence, engagement, and successful application of learned skills in real-world situations.

    Let's dive deeper into these pivotal elements and explore actionable ways to enhance the learning experience.

    • Self-Efficacy: Building Confidence in Learners: Self-efficacy, or how capable your learners feel, plays a critical role in their ability to absorb and apply new knowledge. As an eLearning designer, it's essential to gauge this at the outset. If you find that learners often start with low confidence, consider integrating foundational modules that provide not just the "what" but the "why" and "how" of the skills being taught.

      For instance, if your course is on digital marketing, include a primer on basic marketing principles for those who might not have a background in it. This approach can help learners feel more prepared and confident as they delve into more complex topics.

    • Motivation: The Engine of Learning: We've touched on motivation in previous blogs, and its importance cannot be overstated. A motivated learner is more likely to engage with the content and apply what they've learned. Enhance motivation through dynamic course elements like gamification—think points, badges, and leaderboards—or through tangible rewards for completing sections of the course.

      Also, make it clear how mastering the course content will benefit them personally and professionally. Will it help them perform their job faster? Can it lead to promotions or new job opportunities? Answering these questions within your course can light a fire under learners.

    • Barriers to Learning: Tackling the Obstacles: Learners can face a myriad of barriers, from lack of support from peers and superiors to dealing with outdated equipment. As part of your course design, consider how you can help learners overcome these barriers.

      For example, include modules that offer strategies for seeking support or advocating for updated resources. If time constraints are an issue, design your course so that learners can complete it in short, manageable segments rather than needing large blocks of uninterrupted time.

    • Personal Time and Stress Factors: Recognizing Limits: Finally, don't underestimate the impact of personal stress and time limitations on learning transfer. Both you and your learners operate within the bounds of finite time and energy. Acknowledge this by creating courses that are not only flexible but also mindful of learners' mental load. Techniques like mindfulness exercises can be incorporated at the beginning or end of training sessions to help manage stress. Additionally, provide tips on time management and effective work habits as part of the training to help learners cope with and overcome personal and professional challenges.

    Also read: How To Motivate Learners Before, During, and After an eLearning Course


    3) External Factors 

    When evaluating the effectiveness of training, it's crucial to consider the specific work environment where learners will apply their new skills. Understanding their context means asking some key questions: What does their daily work setting look like? Are they dealing with outdated technology that could hinder the application of modern techniques? Is there enough managerial support to encourage the use of new skills? Or, are there safety concerns or other workplace limitations that might prevent them from experimenting with and applying what they've learned?

    These factors, which make up the external environment of the learners, play a significant role in whether the training will successfully transfer to on-the-job performance.

    Here are some ways in which you can support learners: 

    • Given Resources: Successful application of new skills is heavily dependent on the resources available to learners back at their jobs. This doesn't just mean having the latest gadgets or tools—though those certainly help. It's about ensuring that learners have continual opportunities to apply their new knowledge. 

    • Leadership Support: The role of leadership in the transfer of training cannot be overstated. When supervisors actively support the training—by participating themselves or by recognizing and encouraging the use of new skills—learners take notice. They're more likely to feel that the training is worthwhile and apply it diligently. Conversely, a supervisor who appears indifferent or critical can dampen enthusiasm and impede the application of new skills.

    • A Plan of Action: Clarity and structure go a long way. Setting a clear plan that includes goals, strategies to reach those goals, and the resources needed can significantly boost the transfer of training. This plan should outline what is expected post-training, include dates for tracking progress, and detail the support available from the organization. This kind of structured approach helps keep everyone, from learners to managers, focused and committed.

    • Peer Support: Encouragement doesn’t just have to come from the top. Peer support is equally vital. Creating a culture where peers encourage one another and share their success stories can inspire learners to apply what they’ve learned. Within your eLearning courses, consider including forums or discussion boards where learners can exchange tips and experiences. Seeing a colleague succeed using new skills can be a powerful motivator.

    • External Encouragement: A supportive work environment is crucial. Does the company culture encourage experimentation and application of new skills without fear of repercussions? For example, companies like Google promote an innovative culture by allowing employees to experiment, understanding that not every attempt will be a success. This type of environment fosters both innovation and the practical application of new skills.


    Also read: 7 Brainy Ways to Boost Knowledge Retention in eLearning

    Moving forward, organizations need to prioritize these strategies to bridge the gap between training activities and operational efficacy. It's essential to continually evaluate and adapt training programs to ensure that they effectively contribute to improved workplace performance.

    As you reflect on your own experiences with training programs, consider the following questions:

    • Have you ever felt that the skills learned in training didn't translate well into your daily tasks at work? If so, what do you think contributed to this disconnect?

    • How can your organization improve its approach to training to enhance learning transfer and drive measurable improvements in performance?

    • What specific actions can you take as an individual learner or as a leader within your organization to support the successful application of new skills learned in training?

    By reflecting on these questions and taking proactive steps, we can work towards closing the gap between training investments and tangible workplace outcomes.


    Also read: These Are The Reasons Why Learners Forget Your Training








    Diana Cohen
    Diana Cohen
    Education Writer | eLearning Expert | EdTech Blogger. Creativa, apasionada por mi labor, disruptiva y dinámica para transformar el mundo de la formación empresarial.

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