Apr 072011

Training Transfer: Improving Training Transfer

Training Transfer: By Dave Basarb, V.A.L.E. Consulting, www.evaluatetraining.com

Over the next few weeks I will dedicate my blog posts to Improving Training Transfer. What I will post is proven techniques for increasing the transfer of training from the learning experience to back on-the-job.  Some of these tips take no additional budget; some take capital investments, other take people resources. All the tips do help improve transfer. The good news is that the tips are mutually exclusive, you can implement as many as you want.

What is training transfer? I define training transfer as … participants successfully implementing and integrating skill’s learned in training into their work behavior.

Startling fact: only 10-15% of training skills are successfully transferred to the job. Which means that we run our training factories at an 85-90% defect rate? I’m pretty sure that your companies would go out of business if their products had such a defect rate. The good news is that we can correct this. The tips that I am going to show you have resulted in organizations increasing their transfer rate to 70% or more.

The Training Transfer Continuum. I think of training transfer as a continuum – from designing to pre course, in course and post course activities. To aid our organization in maximizing transfer, then we need to think beyond the training event itself – before during design and after graduation.

So let’s start with the first tip that can be incorporated into instructional design to improve transfer. Please note that is not an all inclusive list and I know you all have some great techniques that have worked for you.

TRAINING TRANSFER TIP #1 – Map Design to Adoption


When designing training look beyond the session and ask yourself: “What do we expect participants to do on-the-job based upon the course design?”  I call these the Adoptive Behaviors. Make sure your course objectives and content are supportive of the behavior. You will be surprised how often we teach content that will never be used because the participant has no need or opportunity for that content. Highly transferable training has tightly aligned content to adoptive behavior. In the same light, the activities and techniques you employ to practice new skills needs also to align to adoptive behaviors.

In summary, design training so that as much as possible is directly aligned to real on-the-job work performed.

Improving Training Transfer Tip #2 – Practice, Practice, Practice
For every 1 minute of content delivered, design in 3 minutes of practice. Highly transferable training gives participants large amounts of time to practice what we want them to do on-the-job. New skills that are not adequately practice have lesser chances of being transferred. I suggest that you set a minimum of 3 to 1.  For every 1 minute of content, at least 3 minutes of practice. I like more than 3 to 1, but consider setting this as the minimum design ratio.


Improving Training Transfer Tip #3 – Use the Buddy System

Whenever possible, pair participants together to practice and coach each other.  Participants learn really well when working with other participants – each gains in the exchange. Trying out new things and getting immediate feedback are excellent transfer enablers Note: there is a risk here that needs to managed – that being that some participants will coach/support incorrect behaviors.  Not intentionally, but it does happen. These pairs may also become learning partners post training to support and coach each other – another good tip for increasing transfer.


Improving Training Transfer Tip #4 – Use Table Coaches 

Design training where very little (less than 5-10%) is lecture in the front of the room. Place participants into small groups with a table coach (facilitator) where new content is introduced and practiced

Keep the table coach and their participants together for the entire session.

 Improving Training Transfer Tip #5 – Reality Rules

Design experiences/exercises that mirror real world work environment. Ensure debrief sessions clearly tie by to the workplace and how the skills can be used.

Whenever possible, design activities that map to real world scenarios. For example, in sales training, have real customers in the session or via teleconference for participants to practice with. At times, we have “experiential activities” that teach a concept we want participants to employ, such as a ropes course, simulation, etc. These are fine as long as the debrief takes it from the abstract and ties how to use what was learned back to the workplace.

Improving Training Transfer – Tip #6 Hold Pre-Course Conversations


During training, many participants feel overwhelmed by the quantity of information presented to them.  A pre-course conversation between the participants and their supervisors helps them focus on the content that is relevant to them, their team, and/or the company. Training departments are often reluctant to ask supervisors to do “one more thing.” Providing a pre-course conversation job aid for supervisors makes this approach as easy and as focused as possible. My experience has shown that spending just a few minutes with participants before training makes a significant difference in what the participants focus on and therefore what gets adopted.

This is an example of a pre-course conversation job aid that is supplied to supervisors to aid them during this activity. The conversation is usually short 10-15 minutes and can be done in person or via phone.

Improving Training Transfer – Tip #7 Hold Teleconference and/or Webcasts to Inform Managers of the Course

Providing managers with a thorough understanding of the course allows them to send the right employees at the right time. It also aids them in conducting the pre-course conversation and begins their involvement of what they can do to support their employees post-training. In these sessions, consider covering the following:

  • Business purpose of the course
  • What their employees will learn
  • How the knowledge and skills will benefit their employees and their organization (team results)
  • Who should attend
  • When they should attend
  • Why they should attend
  • What the manager can do to support pre-course and after graduation

Improving Training Transfer Tip #8 – Let Them Know What You Expect


Show expected Adoptive Behavior before, during, and after content & practice.

Left to their own devices, participants will form judgments on how to implement learned skills which may be different than what we are hoping for. Simply tell them what the adoptive behaviors the company wants are – do this early and often. Not just what they will learn, but what they can do with it.

This simple practice has a remarkable success rate.

Improving Training Transfer Tip #9 – Have Supervisors and Employees Learn Together

Have supervisors and employees attend the class together.

Learning the same thing together at the same time has the potential to form a training transfer bond that is hard to break. Both parties can shape how newly learned skills will aid their department/team and the individual – greatly enhancing transfer. Note: I have one customer where managers attend the course 2 to 3 times a year or more as their people go through the class – that is a serious commitment to transfer. In fact, the other day the managers had the opportunity to “opt out” of attending every class next year and they all refused. They have seen the value in this effort and will continue next year.  FYI – we are talking about 300 managers.

Improving Training Transfer Tip #10 – Journal


At conclusion of course modules, participants document what they learned and what they possibly could do with it back on-the-job.

Participants forget what was learned on Monday morning – journaling often and at the conclusion of course modules provides a basis for putting plans in place of what to do back in the workplace. Try to spend no more than 5-10 minutes per journaling effort. Note: Journaling is usually private and not shared with anyone.

Journaling is not only for classroom courses.  For e-learning programs, the journal can be built into the code for the participant to access, enter their thoughts, modify entries as they progress through the course. Consider having a print feature built into the course so that they have a hard copy if they wish.

A Learning Journal has many advantages:

  • To identify and recognize the participant’s strengths and capitalize on them
  • For participants to acknowledge current limitations
  • To identify areas for self improvement and post-program development
  • To gain insight in potential future benefits of transferring learning to the job

The key elements of a learning journal are:

  1. Description – what just happened in the course
  2. Reflection – the participant’s behavior, feelings, and personal observations
  3. Learning – what you learned, what you would do differently, how you have changed

Improving Training Transfer – Tip #11 Incorporate Reflective Practice


Reflective Practice is a means of enabling participants to learn from their experience. This is used when participants have completed some activity such as simulations or practice sessions. I use this model  to the left.

Reflection is a way of helping participants better understand what they know and do as they develop their knowledge and skill through reconsidering what they learned. Reflection, then, places an emphasis on learning through questioning and investigation to lead to a development of understanding which will add in increasing transfer to the job.

I place the model at logical places within the learning material (classroom or e-learning) and have the participant answer each question reflecting on what was just taught.  At times I have them share with others in class.  You can do this multiple times throughout the program – then have participants review their reflective practice answers in preparation for developing their action plans.

Improving Training Transfer – Tip #12 Do Action Planning

Action planning is a set of clearly written statements describing in measurable terms the specific actions the participant intends to apply on-the-job as a result of training. In preparing this, the participant is drawing up a personal transfer plan, thinking about how, where, and when to match the new skills to concrete situations on-the-job before leaving training. This goal-setting strategy enhances the likelihood of transfer. Once back at work and confronted with e-mails, phone calls, meetings, and problems, the participant’s intention to adopt is negatively impacted—few participants take time in the two or three days after training to think about how they will use what they have just learned and practiced.

Provide the goal-planning sheet in the participant materials and provide notes for the instructor, explaining the purpose of the activity, how to introduce it, how much time to allocate, and criteria for acceptable action items. Allocate time at the end of the program to write goals. As a rule of thumb, participants need fifteen to thirty minutes to write two goals.

Here is a standard action planning (I refer to it as goal planning) form that I have participants use.  I have found that keeping the form simple to complete improves the quailty of the planned actions.

For each action (goal) the participants complete the following statements:

  • The action I will take: this is what the participants will do with their new skill.  Criteria I use is (1) the action is specific and observable – it is clear what they will do [when, what, where, and with whom] and (2) what they will do is observable to others.
  • The outcome I expect is: here I ask the participant to forecast expected outcome(s) [what value will be produced when the action is accomplished – either for them, their team, or the organization].

I require at least 1 goal but encourage a second goal.  More than 2 goals and the participant will likely do nothing well.

Improving Training Transfer – Tip #13 Do Action Mapping

Action Mapping takes action planning further – it is modeled upon the principles of force field analysis. The participant authors their goal (plan of action back on the job). They then identify the barriers and enablers to goal accomplishment. Finally they create actions to deal with the barriers and just as important use enablers for goal accomplishment.

Here is a sample of an action map (see below) that I use with selected leadership programs.  The process I have participants follow is:

  1. In the top box, write a draft of the goals (actions) they plan to implement.
  2. Identify the enabling forces that will aid in implementing their goals – record them in the green boxes [one per box].
  3. Identify the barriers (forces that will hinder their implementation) – record them in the blue boxes [one per box].
  4. Create actions to nurture the enablers and eliminate/reduce the barriers.

The goal statement and the action regarding enablers and barriers make a powerful transfer tool.

Improving Training Transfer – Tip #14 Hold Post-course Conversations


Holding a brief conversation with participants after training makes a significant difference in what gets applied on-the-job, especially if supervisors review participants’ action plans. Ideally you would like this conversation to occur within 1-2 weeks after training – the sooner the better. This provides an opportunity for the manager to shape their employee’s transfer (action) plans and set up support as the employee progresses down their journey.  These conversations usually take only 5-10 minutes.  I supply managers with a Post Course Conversation Job Aid that is customized for the course (in this case Business Acumen).

Things I encourage managers to say/talk about are:

  • Look at the employee’s goals and discuss them.
  • Do you agree these are the best goals for them?  Do they need fine tuning?  Get agreement on the goals.
  • Ask “what kind of help do you need to make these goals happen?”
  • Who do you need help from – me?  Others?
  • How will we know we are making progress?
  • Set a check-in date(s) to review goal progress

I encourage managers to check their employee’s goals against the business results that course graduates are expected to achieve to ensure the goal(s) have a chance in aiding that purpose

Improving Training Transfer – Tip #15 Invest in a Transfer System

Consider automating the transfer process by providing reminders, coaching, collaboration, and content on-line. Systems like this have proven facilitate transfer. The first and most widely used transfer support system is:

from the Fort Hill Company. ResultsEngine is a fully-integrated web-based learning transfer support system designed to drive learning transfer and ensure that training delivers behavior change and tangible results. ResultsEngine reminds participants of their objectives, prompts them to reflect and take action, provides just-in-time goal specific content, engages managers and coaches, encourages collaboration with classmates, and documents results.

I used this system with my leadership classes when I ran the Leadership and General Management College for Ingresoll Rand and found it to be a wonderful aid to training transfer.

Dave Basarb, V.A.L.E.  Consulting, www.evaluatetraining.com


To Discuss how these Solutions will add value for you, your organization and/or your clients, Affinity/Resale Opportunities, and/or Collaborative Efforts, Please Contact:

Tom McDonald, tsm@centurytel.net; 608-788-5144; Skype: tsmw5752

training transfer, McDonald Sales and Marketing, LLC