By Alexis Belair
Q: How can I produce skilled learners in the workplace?
A: It’s simple! Teach for Transfer!
Would such a succinct response to a posed question on the development of skilled professionals be sufficient for its understanding? A swift, “No,” probably would be the answer. With the concept of “teaching for transfer” at the forefront of any training program, it has become vital to understand the concept beyond its surface. Would it be sound to declare that the use of the word, “simple,” to describe the method of “teaching for transfer” is somewhat of an understatement? The correct answer most likely would be, “Definitely!” With a mere 10 to 20 percent of information being transferred to the workplace post-training, it is evident the methodology has its complexities. There is a need to develop a greater understanding of the principle.
Consequently, the issue deeply rooted in the methodology is not this peripheral understanding of the concept, but rather the lack of best practices used for bolstering transfer in training. In reference to the above, the word, “simple,” would be an erroneous representation of the method of teaching for transfer. An attempt to implement the technique is admirable, but this does not suggest effectiveness. Research has shown that even the most successful training programs fail to transfer knowledge and new skills to learners (Cheng, 2008). Today, organizations strive for knowledgeable and skilled employees in order to improve organizational performance (Burke, 2008). In light of this, what are the factors that are being overlooked when trying to execute the practice? Undoubtedly, there is a need to understand the process in order to target some of its glitches.
Factors in the Transfer Process
The idea that “training needs to be demonstrably effective” is the epitome of any learning outcome (Cheng, 2008). Although evaluation models, such as Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation, have been used to measure deficiencies in performance, the challenge is in finding training solutions that will achieve the intended objectives and mold learners into idyllic performers. Notwithstanding the complexities of training, it is indisputable that the true success of training is represented in the learner’s ability to demonstrate what has been learned. It is, thus, irrefutable that training well done is, in fact, worthy of investment (Cheng, 2008). The school of “situated learning” has deemed the learner’s ability to participate in their environment a supreme technique for acquiring skills (Cheng, 2008). However, the idea that off-the-job training is of little value can only be considered gaudy from the stance of any professional. Authors from the article “Transfer of training: A review and new insights” offer an exemplary rendering of the acquisition of “core skills” (2008). A balanced combination of on-the-job and off-the-job learning is preferable.
Trainee personalities also play a vital role in the transfer process. “The main goal for training designers should be to foster the trainees’ motivation to use new skills on the job” (Liebermann and Hoffmann, 2008). Overall learner satisfaction is greater if the training is relevant to the job. In alignment with this idea is the importance goal setting (Gist et al. 1990). Relevant goals intensify the learner’s interest in the tasks at hand, which results in persistence from the learner to reach the goal (Gist et al. 1990). In light of this, it is obvious that practical relevance of a training program has become a crucial factor entrenched in all research pertaining to transfer solutions. The archetype of any good workplace environment “provides adequate resources and opportunities to apply the new knowledge” (Liebermann & Hoffmann, 2008). To plow further into the idyllic environment of training practices is indispensable and should remain at the forefront of training practices research.
Researchers also have identified the organizational environment as a determinant of hindering transfer. The application of structured timely feedback in a positive environment is somewhat difficult to master. Unlike popular belief, extensive feedback is not the panacea of improved behavior. Rather, one must be vigilant when providing feedback (Van den Bossche, 2010). With careful consideration of these factors, feedback can be used as an effective support mechanism to assist in the transfer of training.
Tips for Effective Transfer: A Proposed Model
A new model of transfer has been offered in light of the difficulties outlined in past research (Burke & Hutchins, 2008). Based on the proposed model of transfer offered by the authors, here are some useful points to consider for promoting transfer:
Extend stakeholders beyond trainers, trainees, and supervisors: Although peer support has proven in the past to wield the effects of transfer on trainees, new research has shown peer support as being significantly influential on effects of transfer (Burke & Hutchins, 2008). Peer collaboration, networking, and the sharing of ideas relating to the content can act as support for skill transfer in trainees (Hawley and Barnard, 2005). Further, consider the organization itself as a major stakeholder. The organization’s “transfer climate” can directly influence training transfer results. Whether the organization values learning can have a direct impact on employee performance (Awoniyi et al. 2004).
Extend beyond the classic before, during, and after evaluation of transfer: It is important to consider that transfer is not necessarily time-bound (Burke & Hutchins, 2008). “Put simply, the transfer problem is not rooted in a specific time phase and, thus, its remedies should not be either” (2008). Provide support for transfer throughout the duration of the transfer process and not solely at specific time phases. For example, consider creating jobs aids before the training so the trainee can use it during and after training. Such tactics help extend beyond the training itself and promotes for continuous on-the-job learning (Baldwin-Evans, 2006; Clarke, 2004).
Consider trainer characteristics and evaluation as influential factors: Learner characteristics, the design and delivery of the training, and the environment all have been considered as influential factors that may inhibit or support transfer. Consider incorporating expressions in the delivery of the content and ensure the content is well organized. Further, incorporate assessment of transfer from trainee, trainer, and the organization’s perspective. This helps to create an environment that values and supports learning (Bates, 2003).
Include moderating variables: Consider the size (small, medium, large) of the organization. These factors may have a direct affect of the training department and the way in which transfer is evaluated (Burke & Hutchins, 2008).
Although the ambition to create a perfect training transfer model is admirable, the fact remains that transfer is nothing short of complex. That said, in order to provide for optimal effectiveness of training for transfer, it is essential that all aspects of training be garnered into a manageable practice.
Alexis Belair is a student at Concordia University in Montreal completing a Master’s degree in Educational Technology.