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Why Training Doesn’t Transfer & What to Do About It

It’s too bad about that lack of transfer, because the learning opportunity or event you were offering really mattered.

But wait… why aren’t the learners using what they learned?

There are a host of possible reasons…

Coyote Creek Trail

Bridge to Using What We’ve Learned

Why Your Training Doesn’t Transfer

I learned it in class, but… Causes for Lack of Transfer
Nobody expects me to do it on the job. Knowledge and job expectations (goals) don’t match.
My manager looked at me funny when I did it, so I’ll go back to the old way. There’s nothing more important than the learner’s manager showing obvious support for using new skills.
People will laugh at me (dislike me, etc.) if I do it. Negative consequences (everybody’s making fun of me)
My coworkers will feel “shown-up” if I do it. Negative social impact (nobody likes me)
We practiced it in class, but… Causes for Lack of Transfer
It’s faster or easier to do it the old way. Without enough practice, the new way will seem slow, difficult, and to be avoided.

Or, sometimes the new way isn’t the best way.

I don’t remember how, maybe I’ll look up the new procedure later on (it’s in the binder on my shelf). This could be…

  • I don’t feel confident
  • I didn’t practice enough to remember how
  • I don’t think this is that important (or I might open that binder)

We learned this 3 months ago, and who remembers now?

It worked in class, but… Causes for Lack of Transfer
It doesn’t exactly match how we do it on the job. May not fit into the existing system or procedures.

This one is especially strong if the manager doesn’t like the new way.

The work we did in class was all about engineering and I’m in finance. If the context is unfamiliar, then many people won’t realize that they can use what they’ve learned.

What to Do?

  1. Review the New Way. If it isn’t the best way, consider making changes, if permissible. Nobody wants to work harder or longer for the same or a worse result. If there are legal, regulatory, or compliance issues, then you’ll need a motivation strategy.
  2. Ignore the System at Your Peril. Make sure that this new thing works with the rest of their jobs (fits, dovetails, doesn’t throw a monkey wrench). Make sure it’s a square peg in a square hole.
  3. Watch the Timing. Make the training as close to when your learners will use the new knowledge and skills as is practical. If there’s a significant time gap, be sure to provide support for refreshing what they learned earlier.
  4. Enlist Management Support. It wasn’t so long ago that I heard about a supervisor telling her people, “It’s okay to do it this way for the training, but later we’ll do it the way we’ve always done it.” Don’t let this happen to you. Make sure the managers are on board before launching the training.
  5. Put the Managers to Work. Enlist their support (early) to set goals and to encourage the new behaviors. This may include making sure that coworkers have reasons to be supportive, as well. Let your learners’ managers know what they can specifically do to support new ways of doing things.
  6. Make It Real. During training, use examples and activities that are as close to real situations as you can make them (while preserving a safe experience). Tie new knowledge and skills to what your learners do on the job. If they can make the connections themselves, even better.
  7. Practice to Confidence. If practice time is limited during the learning program, work out a plan for the learners to practice enough afterward so that they’ll be confident in their new skills.

Teaching something is not nearly enough to make sure that people will use what they’ve learned. Make sure that what you’re teaching:

  • Works for the learners
  • In their environment
  • And that their managers are actively on board

Make sure that the whole system (goals, rewards, support, feedback, environment) is set up to support what your learners will be doing. Add follow-up, if at all possible, too.

Making sure that learning transfers is not so easy. We need more than great instructional design and wonderful delivery. We have to wrap it up our learning offerings in a whole system of support to really make them work.


Post | 12 Ways to Make Sure Your Learners Use What They Learned

Book | The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning

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