A training program is successful if it delivers the right piece of information to the right learner at the right time. The learning transfer rate is highest when employees receive just the knowledge they need when they need it.
When learning transfer is high, it improves employee productivity, helps employees solve problems better and faster, and positively impacts the bottom line. The problem is, more often than not, the learning transfer rate of a training program is not an impressive number. While it’s a myth that the learning transfer rate of any training program is about 10 percent, calculating it remains an estimation at best. There is an acute need for empirical evidence in the case of learning transfer. Until that evidence is available, L&D professionals will have to make the most of what we already have.
A lot can happen between the time an employee learns a new skill and the first time he or she uses it, much of which instructional designers and trainers can’t control. For example, when the employee is sleep-deprived, stressed or tired – during learning, during the application of learning or during both – learning transfer might not happen. The forgetting curve makes this process even more difficult. Spaced repetition helps, but it comes with no guarantees.
Delivering the right piece of information to the right learner at the right time is definitely easier said than done. The good news is that there are a few factors that you can control that can impact learning transfer — and, eventually, the ROI of the training program. Here are four.
1. A Clear Context
One low-hanging fruit is to create a clear context for the training. Why is it important for employees to know how to apply the contents of the course? Why should each employee want to master the topic? These questions need clear answers from the beginning.
Course developers should be specific in the knowledge, skills or attitude change that are the expected outcomes of the course. These learning objectives should be stated at the beginning of the course and each learning module. More importantly, the learning objectives should be aligned with the company’s objectives and the learners’ goals. For example, a company might gain (or renew) an industry certification if a certain number of its employees finish a course. Likewise, employees who receive a certificate might have a better chance of being promoted and have a competitive advantage wherever their professional journey takes them.
2. A Realistic Setting
Training objectives must also be anchored in the “real world.” For example, consider an online course created for a marketing department. Let’s assume the course is packed with useful information and that all participants are invested in it, but when they try to apply what they learn, they hit roadblocks like insufficient resources and unrealistic expectations. In the real world, successful marketing initiatives need a full team of people, a reasonable budget and plenty of time. Obviously, learning transfer will be low if the setting of the course isn’t similar to the participants’ work environment. If employees receive clear time frames, a budget and other tools that enable them to experiment, and their performance is regularly evaluated, transfer will improve.
3. Buy-In From All Stakeholders
At first glance, every training program has two stakeholders: the people who create the program and the people who participate in it. But first glances are rarely thorough, and there are several other stakeholders: the leadership team, managers and employees from other departments. For a training program to have a significant learning transfer rate, all of these stakeholders must be taken into account during its creation, delivery and support.
If the company’s leaders are not convinced a training program is worthwhile, they won’t fund it, or, if they do, they’ll convey to the learners their negative opinion. Likewise, if managers or other employees are not on board, they’ll influence learners in a negative way. In order to prevent this problem, involve managers and leaders at least in the phase of developing learning goals, and ensure their commitment to the program.
Employees in all departments create an environment that supports – or doesn’t – continuous learning. Developing a learning culture takes time, but its advantages are worth the investment. When the application of new knowledge and skills is a regular and casual conversation between co-workers, and when employees help and support each other at work, learning transfer will be more impressive.
4. The Right Learning Technology
The use of technology in training is not a perfect solution for a better learning transfer rate in itself; technology is merely a means to that end. When used well, however, it can make transfer easier. For example, a cloud-based learning management system allows employees to access learning materials anytime, anywhere. Moreover, mobile devices are useful for employees who work in the field instead of in an office.
The exact formula for calculating the learning transfer rate of a training program may still be unknown, but if you consider all the elements that can influence it and focus on what you can control, you’ll increase the chance for learning transfer not only to happen but to be closer to 100 percent than to 10 percent.