In recent years, companies have been investing more and more in the learning and development (L&D) of their employees. It is estimated that global organizations spent $370.3 billion on L&D in 2019 alone — an incredible amount of money. Considering how little people actually learn in many corporate training events, it seems like this incredible amount of money is not being spent effectively.

This article outlines how you can identify the elements that are stopping your training from being successful and maximize the return on your investment (ROI) in training.

Learning Success

A successful training program achieves learning transfer — that is, the concepts and skills taught in the training are used by the learner, with a resulting improvement in job performance. Learning transfer is the goal of every training intervention. To put it another way: The great end of learning is not knowledge but action.

Factors That Influence Learning Transfer

Learning is a complex activity. The process of transferring information received through the senses into long-term memory for later retrieval is beyond the scope of this article. That said, taking information from memory and transferring that information into everyday use is equally complex.

There are many factors that influence learning transfer: factors internal to the learner; organizational factors; and the factors involved in planning, designing and delivering the training intervention.

Learner Factors

The extent to which learners perceive learning as a means to self-improvement or the achievement of personal goals plays a key role in how motivated they will be to make efforts to transfer learning to their job.

Organizational Factors

The environment in which transfer is to take place impacts attempts to transfer learning and helping transfer to stick. Do learners feel supported by their manager and peers in their attempts to transfer their learning? Is learning transfer rewarded in the company? Do learners think that their organization will support or block their attempts to transfer? Will there be time allocated for post-training application and practice? Will learners receive feedback and guidance from others on their post-training performance? The answer to each of these questions will help determine whether transfer is likely.

Learning Design Factors

Factors relating to the design of the training intervention also influence learning transfer. For example, the training and the learner’s role should be similar; the activities in the training should mirror the activities the learner is expected to perform every day. The training should also clarify post-training expectations of learners; guides and easy-to-use job aids help participants transition from a learner to a performer.

These factors must be balanced and in harmony with each other. If any of the elements is out of alignment, learning transfer is unlikely to happen. As an example, think of a highly motivated learner who is pumped up following an engaging learning event and primed to put her learning into practice. When she returns to work, however, she is met with an overflowing inbox and a manager eager for her to return to work and make up for lost time spent in training.

In this scenario, the organizational factors required for learning transfer are not aligned with the internal learner factors and learning design factors, reducing the likelihood of positive learning transfer and essentially making the learning event a waste of time and money.

Identify the Factors for Training Success

Research on the topic of learning transfer first started over 100 years ago. It is not a new topic, and there have been many advances in our understanding over the years. Several surveys now enable learning practitioners to understand which elements in their learning transfer ecosystem are promoting learning transfer and which elements are blocking successful transfer. For example, the Learning Transfer System Inventory (LTSI) measures 16 key learning climate factors and is the most widely used measure of learning transfer in organizational settings.

Learning practitioners use the LTSI to audit the current state of a variety of factors in their organization that influence transfer of learning. They can then use the results to examine the current learning climate and identify critical areas in need of attention to increase the ROI of their learning interventions.

Focus on Your Weaknesses

Analyzing the results of a learning transfer inventory will enable you to rapidly pinpoint the elements that are reducing the occurrence of learning transfer, so you know where you can focus your energy and provide the biggest learning impact for your organization. Think of the different factors like individual links in a chain; each link needs to be strong and well maintained, and it takes just one weak link to break the chain.

Your training programs may be only a fraction as successful as they could be. Take steps to identify the weak links in your learning transfer chain by performing an audit of your company’s learning transfer ecosystem. With this information, you can pivot from wasting all your energy (and money!) designing ineffective training and support systems and channel your energy, instead, toward fulfilling your purpose: enabling the growth and high performance of your company’s people.