“Use it or lose it” sounds like a flippant, over-used cliché with little place in a complex and intellectual world like learning and development (L&D). But it applies perfectly. If you don’t use your learning back on the job in some deliberate way, you’ll completely lose all the money you invested in training.

So, what can we do as L&D professionals to make sure employees transfer learning to their jobs and that we end up with a positive return on investment (ROI)? More specifically, what can we do during the post training weeks and months to ensure learners have the right “transfer climates,” where learning is reinforced and moves from their thinking brains to their moving bodies?

Transfer Climate

I call this post-training environment the “transfer climate” because it represents the environmental factors that can either help or hinder the “transfer” of learning from the training experience back to the job.  If you think of your training as a beautiful flower you’re trying to plant — no matter how strong the leaves or how pretty the flowers, you will still need just the right soil and just the right amount of water and sunlight for it to grow.

It’s the same with training: No matter how exciting, thoughtful and well-designed the training delivery is, you will still need to ensure all the right factors are in place to nurture learners through their development. If the climate is suitable (warm) for learning transfer then the training will stick, the learner will thrive and ultimately blossom fruitful returns. If the climate is not suitable (cold) for learning transfer, the training impact will not flourish and all your time and resources will wither on the vine.

These climate factors can heavily influence the business impact on training. Although factors such as the quality of training, the mode of delivery and the relevance of content are significant to the training outcome, none of these factors weigh as directly on the outcomes of training effectiveness as a learner’s post-training climate.

Measuring Transfer Climate

Before you can meaningfully measure the influence a climate has on training effectiveness, you’ll first need to know how to measure training effectiveness.  After all, you can’t distinguish which transfer climate factors are stronger until you know what “stronger” means.

According to The Kirkpatrick Model, stronger impact means the new learning (Level 2) created more behavior change back on the job (Level 3), more business impact (Level 4), and a greater return on investment (Level 5).  It’s important to measure all these levels of training (including Level 1) and get a full “story of impact” because it helps you understand if and where training goes off the rails.

For instance, if learners were thrilled with the experience (Level 1) and gained an incredible amount of knowledge (Level 2), but there’s no behavior change at Level 3, then you know that something in the participant’s post-training environment may have gone wrong.

Many environmental factors can cause training to fail — a lack of support from their team lead or manager, limited opportunity to practice or apply skills in their role or no incentive to adapt a new trained behavior just to name a few. In fact, tracking all the factors that influence the application of new skills might be challenging, but if you can identify just a few of the stronger factors and put some reinforcers in place, you can increase your ROI in extraordinary ways.

In one study at American Express, a structured reward connection from training behaviors to mid-year performance appraisals turned a 4% ROI into a 183% ROI. In another study at Verizon, a little manager support and involvement post training turned a -31% ROI into +105%. That’s a negative to a positive ROI with a little low-investment reinforcement post training.

As you can imagine, these findings are very important to stakeholders because it helps them realize that with just a little post-training reinforcement they can drive ROI. But again, in order to measure the influence of these factors, you must first validly and reliably measure the ROI. And before you can analyze and measure Level 6 (the transfer climates that maximize ROI), you have to get pretty good at measuring impact at the previous levels. Here’s a quick review of what we measure at all 6 levels.

Training Impact in a New Era

So, how does measurement and “transfer climate” hold a light in this new era of training? With smart technology dictating the way we work, the fourth industrial revolution is a time of simplicity and results. If learning leaders can offer simpler, faster and more effective training outside of traditional in-person experiences and give it greater impact, they can win. That is, if they use less time and resources on the delivery of training, and double down on the most powerful influence of training effectiveness: the post-training climates that make training stick. Less time training that packs a more powerful punch is a clear win-win-win for learner, training provider and client stakeholder.

This new digital landscape has shifted traditional training norms and has helped enable smaller training organizations with more engaging, bite-sized classes to compete with larger corporate giants. Smaller companies who succeed at measuring impact for their clients and influencing learning stickiness are better positioned to satisfy their customers with insightful and actionable results compared to larger companies who offer a lot of training hours with little measurement and few tangible results. The key here is measurement.


As dedicated training professionals, we put such incredible resources (including our hearts and souls) into developing and delivering the perfect content during our time with learners. But all of our best efforts and intentions equate to only a fraction of training effectiveness’s impact on the business. What happens after learners leave the training experience and go back to their jobs is a powerful influence to their application of new skills. The “transfer climate” is what can make or break all the desired effects of training.

If transfer of learning into real-life scenarios doesn’t happen after training then your training programs will be perceived as a big waste of time and money. The only thing that rescues us from this dismal fate is measuring the impact of training at each level and reporting back to stakeholders what factors are either helping or hindering that impact back on the job.

We have to report that employees are applying training to their roles and using new skills, or everyone will naturally assume that they’re losing it. Let’s further extend that cliché to our L&D training budget — If we ‘re not showing that we can be trusted using it, then we should certainly look forward to losing it.

Register for the June Training Industry Conference & Expo (TICE) to hear Dr. Paul Leone’s session, “Did you Use it or Lose It? How to Measure and Maximize the Impact of Your Training Programs.”