Learning Transfer Model: Key Concepts for Maximum Success

2019.10.05 Jonathan Deller
Learning Transfer Model: Key Concepts for Maximum Success

If you’ve been following our learning transfer series, you’ll be familiar with the troubling statistic that less than 20 percent of corporate training makes its way into the workplace. This low rate of learning transfer has been widely researched and accepted, yet that doesn’t mean you’re powerless to address it.

In this post, we’ll share six key concepts for dramatically increasing learning transfer and ensuring maximum success for any corporate training program. We’ll show you the best practices that will dramatically increase the likelihood that training makes its way from the classroom to the workplace.

6 Key Concepts to Focus on

The following six key concepts will help you maximize your organization’s learning initiatives to maximize your business outcomes:

Concept 1. Begin with the end in mind
Concept 2. Develop a communication strategy
Concept 3. Link training to business strategy
Concept 4. Prioritize training at the executive level
Concept 5. Provide the right processes and tools
Concept 6. Prepare your managers

Sound fair? Then let’s get right to it!

Concept 1. Begin with the end in mind

Many corporate trainers successfully complete their certification sessions and head out of the door with a spring in their step. Their program is great, they have plenty of engaging activities, entertaining media, and useful skills to share with thousands of eager trainees over the coming year.

Most trainers have the same end result in mind: confident trainees who can apply their newly learned skills, competencies and behaviors in the workplace.

But given what you know about dismal learning transfer rates, what’s the likelihood of this result being delivered?

To put things another way, imagine that you wanted the training to fail.

What would it look like?

  • You wouldn’t let participants know what the training was for or how it would help them.
  • You wouldn’t inform the managers about the training course
  • You wouldn’t offer any refreshers or reinforcements
  • You wouldn’t give the participants the tools they needed to apply their learning back on the job.

Now be honest.

How many of these mistakes did you actually make when you rolled our your last training session?

Despite the fact that you know better, it’s all too easy to get caught up in ideals and rush training while neglecting factors that could enhance learning transfer.

That’s why the first concept for maximum success is beginning with the end in mind.

How?

Focus on ways to improve learning transfer and find solutions that give participants the greatest chance of success. This key concept should help boost learning transfer between your training initiatives and help your organization meet its business outcomes.  

Concept 2. Develop a communication strategy

The second key concept for maximum success with training initiatives is to develop an effective communication strategy.

If participants don’t know what’s expected of them and how it can help their work, learning transfer rates will remain low.

An effective communication strategy will;

  • Make expectations clear to employees
  • Foster greater commitment to learning
  • Promote active participate

Wondering why communication is important?

In 2000, Elwood Holton, Distinguished Professor of Human Resource, Leadership and Organization Development, led a group of researchers to create and publish the Learning Transfer System Inventory (LTSI). The LTSI was the first empirically tested instrument for understanding the various processes that affect training transfer.

Never heard of the LTSI?

It’s essentially a questionnaire that is given to trainees just after they complete training. The LTSI is used to investigate the variables that affect learning transfer.

Learning Transfer Model: Key Concepts for Maximum Success

Most LTSIs contains around 70 statements that focus on 16 factors that are likely to influence learning transfer. Respondents complete Likert-type scales ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) for each statement.

And guess which factor topped the list?

That’s right – communication. The LSTI looks at ‘Learner readiness’, which is defined as the extent to which individuals feel prepared to enter and participate in training.

The LSTI asks respondents who have recently completed a training course to evaluate the following statement:

Before the training began, I understood how it would fit my job-related development.

Research by Holton found that learner readiness was one of the most important predictive factors behind high rates of learning transfer. Without communication, learners will simply show up to training and passively participate without knowing what’s at stake.

That’s why the second key concept for success is to ensure that you communicate all expectations to participants before training commences.

Concept 3. Link training to business strategy

Are key stakeholders in your organization frustrated with the gap between your learning initiatives and business outcomes?

Is training views more as a ‘cost’ than an investment?

Both of these attitudes occur when training initiatives aren’t linked to business strategy. Without a solid purpose behind it, trainees and managers are more likely to believe that the training isn’t important.

When you link training initiatives to your organization’s business strategy, you’ll find it easier to get ‘buy-in’ from executives, managers, and participants. That’s why linking training to business strategy is the third key concept for maximum success; it can significantly boost learning transfer.

Why?

Well, one of the key factors identified by Elwood Holton and his team when they were developing the LTSI was performance outcomes expectations. This factor determines the respondent’s expectation that on-the-job changes will result in valued outcomes.

For example, the LTSI would ask respondents to reflect on the following statement:

When I improve my performance, I receive positive benefits and outcomes. 

Research conducted by Holton showed that participants are far more likely to have positive performance outcomes expectations when the training is linked to business strategy.

To put it another way, learners are more likely to understand the importance of the training initiative and be motivated to try new behaviors when they believe that it is linked to positive benefits and outcomes.

Concept 4. Prioritize training at the executive level

Think back to the last training you attended, and be honest; who was really in the driving seat?

Key stakeholders?

or Human Resources?

Research shows that learners and managers only view training as a priority when the initiative comes from the top. Without executive sponsorship for senior management, the learning transfer rate will likely remain low, even if the training is top-notch and flawlessly delivered.

Look.

If you want high levels of participation, commitment, and learning transfer, the boss must be in the driving seat. When designing the LTSI, Holton’s team identified Openness to change as one of the factors most critical to learning transfer.

This factor refers to the extent to which the respondent believes that implementing new skills and knowledge is encouraged or discouraged by their organization or people in their group.

If learners believe that the training is being actively sponsored by the very top of their organization, they are more likely to jump on board and work on sustained behavior change. They’ll be far more likely to have a positive attitude of their organization's openness to change and strongly agree that their colleagues and supervisors are open to implementing on-the-job changes.

Concept 5. Provide the right processes and tools

The fifth key concept is giving participants the right processes and tools to apply their new learning to their jobs. All too often, organizations provide training and they let their employees figure out how to implement their new learning back at work.

When developing the LSTI, Holton’s team identified ‘opportunity to use’ as one of the most critical factors for learning transfer to take place. Trainees that feel they have adequate resources to use what they learned on the job are far more likely to apply their training.

Wondering what to do?

Try one or more of the following ideas:

  • Build checklists
  • Develop job aids
  • Form a pilot group of high performers to coach and support others
  • Develop plans to implement new skills

If you’re serious about boosting learning transfer, providing the right processes and tool is an essential concept.

Concept 6. Prepare your managers

If your training initiatives suffer from low learning transfer, the answer could lie with coaching. Of all the factors identified by Holton’s team while developing the LSTI, coaching was one of the most important.

In fact, three of the LSTI’s 16 factors that influence learning transfer focus on coaching.

They are:

  • Peer support
    The extent to which peers offer reinforcement of new training and support their colleagues to use new learning on the job.
  • Supervisor support
    This factor measures the extent to which respondents feel their supervisors offer support and reinforcement of training on the job.
  • Supervisor sanctions
    The extent to which supervisors are perceived to impose sanctions when respondents apply newly learned skills on the job.

Involving your managers has an enormous impact on learning transfer rates, but they can only recognize, reinforce and coach skills, behaviors, and competencies if they have been properly prepared and trained.

Sidestep manager preparation and your staff simply won’t be equipped for their roles. Given the impact of manager coaching, this makes the chance of high learning transfer a distant prospect.

Here are some specific tips for doing just that;

  • Include coaching tools and processes in manager training.
  • Develop coaching plans with clear duties and responsibilities.
  • Conduct best practice sharing meetings.

With proper preparation, managers will help your training deliver maximum results and generate business outcomes.

Research into manager training by Michael Leimbach, Ph.D., showed that training managers in general coaching skills and how to coach the specific skills that employees were learning can boost employee performance by over 40 percent.

What to do next

The six key concepts we have discussed in this guide should help you maximize the success of any training and boost learning transfer.

We suggest using a Learning Transfer System Inventory (LTSI) questionnaire after the training has wrapped up to see what’s working and what could be improved in your organization. The LSTI is used by many organizations to evaluate the learning transfer of their training initiatives and identify avenues for improvement. .

Here’s what to do:

1. Create and give your LTSI
LTSIs typically contain between 60 and 80 statements that are intended to measure the 16 factors most likely to influence learning transfer. Although you can use a standard LTSI with pre-written statements, the LTSI will be far more effective if the statements are custom written specifically for your organization and training initiative.

These 16 factors are:

  • Learner readiness
  • Motivation to transfer
  • Positive personal outcomes
  • Negative personal outcomes
  • Personal capacity for transfer
  • Peer support
  • Supervisor support
  • Supervisor sanctions
  • Perceived content validity
  • Transfer design
  • Opportunity to use
  • Transfer effort performance expectations
  • Performance outcomes expectations
  • Openness to change
  • Performance self-efficacy
  • Performance coaching

For each of these factors, you write four or five statements. We’ve given several suggestions in this guide for ways that you may phrase these statements, but if you’re looking for help, our post Learning transfer system inventory: All you need to know gives you ready-made suggestions for each of the 16 factors.

The most commonly used type of answer scales on LTSIs are Likert-type scales ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

Once you’ve finished writing your statements, email an LTSI to all participants within a week of their training course wrapping up. Send a follow-up email around a week later and encourage as many participants as possible to complete the questionnaire.

2. Analyze the data and choosing appropriate learning transfer activities.

Once the majority of responses are in, you can use the data from the completed LTSIs to evaluate which actions and activities your own organization should take. You may involve training designers, managers, facilitators, and other key stakeholders and brainstorm your next course of action.

The statements on the LTSI are the ideal outcomes you’d like to obtain and the respondents select one response between 1 and 5. If most respondents select 5 (strongly agree), you can assume that your organization is strong in this area. If most of the responses are 1 or 2, it shows that this may be an area of concern.

Select appropriate learning transfer activities that will help address each of the areas flagged up as unsatisfactory by the LTSI. If you’re looking for ideas, our recent post Transfer Learning: A Start-to-Finish Guide has a range of learning transfer activities for each business outcome.

 

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Kristoffer
Kristoffer Laag
HR Strategist