“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”
– Arie De Geus, former head of planning for Shell Oil Company
Organizations, each year, spend billions of dollars on training and development (T&D) in order to enhance the knowledge, skills, and abilities of their employees and ultimately, to gain a competitive advantage. In 2007, for example, it was estimated by the American Society for Training and Development that U.S. organizations spent about 134 billion dollars on T&D alone.
Despite the tremendous amount of money that is pumped into organizational training efforts, there is a growing recognition of a “transfer problem.” What I mean by the “transfer problem” is that trainees have difficulty effectively and continually applying the knowledge and skills they learned in one context (the training environment) to a different context (their job). In fact, researchers have found that only ten percent of learning that takes place in training actually transfers to the organizational context… ten percent, folks!
Note: You’ll notice that much of the content on this site is dedicated to informal or non-traditional forms of learning since this is shown to contribute the most to knowledge sharing and productivity. Formal training isn’t going away anytime soon, though, and in whatever capacity it will play in learning strategies it still needs to be done correctly.
So why is it that trainees have so much difficulty transferring their learning to the job context? Dr. Raymond Noe has outlined some of the obstacles to effective transfer of training:
- Work Conditions (e.g., time pressures, inadequate equipment available in the job context)
- Lack of peer support (e.g., peers discourage the use of new skills or speak disparagingly about trainings)
- Lack of management support (e.g., managers don’t understand the importance of training, do not provide opportunities for employees to practice their trained skills, and do not reinforce the use of skills)
- Personal characteristics of the trainees (e.g., trainees don’t believe that they are capable of using their skills, trainees fail to monitor themselves to ensure that they are using their skills)
Quite obviously, organizations need to address these obstacles in order to boost training transfer. First of all though, it’s important to note, as many researchers do, that training transfer is a process. That is, interventions must be implemented before, during, and after training in order to create contextual conditions that strengthen transfer. Here are a couple of tips for enhancing training transfer compiled from various research-based articles:
1. Relate training to organizational objectives. Before training, trainees need to be given realistic information about the training program–how it relates to organizational objectives and how they can apply their new knowledge and skills on the job. This type of pre-training information session is likely to give trainees a sense that they have organizational support and to increase trainees’ motivation and readiness for learning.
2. Give trainees a voice. Rather than assigning employees to specific training programs, organizations may also consider allowing employees to have a say in terms of the type of training they receive and the design of the training. When employees are given the authority to make decisions about what and how they learn, they are more likely to be engaged during the training and ultimately, to transfer their skills.
3. Set training goals. Supervisors should consider sitting down with their employees and setting specific, time-bound goals related to their employees’ participation and acquisition of skills during training. For example, they might pinpoint specific projects that the employee would complete within a certain time period using skills and knowledge acquired in training.
4. Use self-management strategies. Employees need to be prepared to practice their skills even if the work climate is not particularly conducive to it (i.e., when the environment contains a lot of obstacles to transfer). First of all, trainees need to become aware that there is a tendency for trainees to forget knowledge gained in training and to lapse back into previously learned skills and behaviors. Once they realize that lapses occur frequently, employees can then work with their supervisors to create a transfer plan that tackles all identified environmental and personal obstacles to transfer. For example, in response to expected time pressures that would inhibit transfer following training, an employee may decide to have a conversation with his boss and ask him to lighten his workload immediately after training so that he can begin to adjust his skills to a new context. If he lacks self-monitoring skills, he might also identify different individuals within the organization that could coach and encourage him through the transfer process – a great way to interlace your training within a social networking or expertise location initiative.
These tips can help build a strong transfer climate and a strong transfer climate is an essential component of a learning organization, with a greater capacity to learn, grow, and adapt. Particularly in a rapidly changing business climate, this capacity is absolutely crucial.