One of the biggest challenges of corporate training is transferring the newly learned skills, behaviors and competencies to the workplace. Research shows that typically less than 20 percent of the skills and knowledge acquired in training result in workplace changes. This low learning transfer rate has been widely researched and accepted, so why is it so dismal?
There are a huge number of underlying variables that explain low learning transfer. These include a lack of supervisor support, job stress, training content, a lack of peer support, and many more. In 2000, a group of researchers led by Elwood Holton published the Learning Transfer System Inventory (LTSI). The LTSI considered these factors together as a unified set of variables. Holton’s team showed how a total of 16 factors influence the transfer of learning from the training event to the workplace.
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the LTSI including its internal structure, how it works and how it can be used to improve learning transfer for any training event.
We’ll be discussing the following areas:
- A brief history of learning transfer research
- What is the Learning Transfer System Inventory?
- The development of the Learning Transfer System Inventory
- Understanding the Learning Transfer System Inventory
- Learning Transfer System Inventory: How it works
A brief history of learning transfer research
Before we discuss the LTSI, it’s worth summarizing the history of research into learning transfer. Learning transfer is a decades-old problem faced by organizations across the globe. Poor learning transfer rates from training events to the workplace help enforce the view among organization stakeholders that training is more of a ‘cost’ than an ‘investment’.
Learning transfer was widely studied throughout the late 20th century and a number of researchers studied variables that are likely to affect learning transfer rates.
- Goal-setting post-training intervention (Gist et al., 1990)
- Supervisor support, training reputation, and intrinsic/extrinsic incentives (Facteau et al., 1995)
- Role ambiguity, job stress, and negative change (Bennett et al., 1999)
- Peer support (Bates et al., 2000)
- Self-efficacy and conscientiousness (Colquitt et al., 2000).
However, despite these variables being well-researched and understood, little was known about how the interacted with or overlapped each other. While a few researchers (notably Baldwin & Ford, 1988) had suggested creating a comprehensive taxonomy of variables, these remained largely conceptual and were not empirically tested. In other words, there was no single, unifying ‘transfer system’ that showed how all of the individual variables that affect learning transfer related to or interacted with each other.
What is the Learning Transfer System Inventory?
In 2000, Elwood Holton 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 occur around training transfer.
The LTSI is essentially a questionnaire that is designed to investigate the system of variables that affected learning transfer. The purpose of the LTSI is to assess all the factors that influence learning transfer from the training event to the workplace.
- Factors about the person
- Training-related factors
- Factors at an organization level
The LTSI measures 16 dimensions likely to influence learning transfer. These include the following 11 specific factors related to the training program:
- 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
The LTSI also includes five general factors that apply to any training program:
- Transfer effort performance expectations
- Performance outcomes expectations
- Openness to change
- Performance self-efficacy
- Performance coaching
The LTSI was the first empirically-tested instrument that showed the validity of all factors that affect learning transfer. It helps practitioners understand the various processes that occur around training processes and shows how they interact with each other, how they are independent and how their influence on learning transfer can be modeled.
The development of the Learning Transfer System Inventory
The LTSI was developed and released in three specific stages.
- In 1993, two researchers Rouiller and Goldstein designed a questionnaire that helped organizations understand factors are learning transfer. The questionnaire worked by showing which factors were more likely to help with learning transfer. This ‘predictive ability’ would become an important factor of the later LTSI.
- In 1997, Holton et al.modified Rouiller and Goldstein’s questionnaire and developed a nine-factor structure, renaming it the ‘Learning Transfer Questionnaire’ (LTQ).
- In the late 1990s, Holton et al. made further developments including adding seven new constructs to the questionnaire. The authors conducted first- and second-order analyses before dividing the factors into 11 specific and 5 general variables. The Learning Transfer System Inventory was released in 2000.
Since its release, the LTSI has been reexamined and retested by various researchers.
- In 1997, Christelle Devos et al. published The Learning Transfer System Inventory (LTSI) translated into French: internal structure and predictive validity in the International Journal of Training and Development. The aim of this study was to contribute to the improvement of the LTSI. A team of researchers administered the LTSI to “328 participants from six companies during the week following the end of a training program”. The study revealed strong support for the 16-factor structure of the original LTSI.
- In 2012, Reid Bates, Elwood F. Holton III & John Paul Hatala (2012) published A revised learning transfer system inventory: factorial replication and validation, in the Human Resource Development International. The results provided “strong support for the five and 11-factor structure of the program.”
Understanding the Learning Transfer System Inventory
Learning transfer underpins almost all educational and training programs. Human beings have the innate ability to transfer what they learn from one situation to another. The LTSI is an instrument that diagnoses the factors affecting this process of transferring learning between different contexts. To understanding the LTSI, it’s important to unpack and understand some of the assumptions on which it is based.
Firstly, the LTSI assumes that learning outcomes are a function of the following three levels:
- Environmental influences
These three aspects can be examined at three specific outcome levels:
- Individual performance
- Organizational performance
However, the LTSI also takes account of secondary influences that affect learner motivation such as individual attitudes and personalities.
To understand how the LTSI functions, it’s important to understand that learning transfer involves both explicit and tacit knowledge.
- Most explicit knowledge is in the form of data, documents, records, and files.
- Most tacit knowledge is in the form of experience, commitment, competence, and thinking.
Although systems and processes are important for learning transfer, the LTSI assumes that the majority of learning transfer is a social process that occurs when humans find meaning or motivation to learn and apply what they have learned to a specific situation.
Learning Transfer System Inventory: How it works
With an understanding of what the LTSI is, it’s time to look closely at how it works.
- To implement the LTSI, an organization, employee or researcher will email the LTSI to participants with the week following the last day of their training. This timeframe is appropriate because some factors (such as Perceived content validity) focus on the time immediately after training while other factors (such as Supervisor support) require that trainees are back at work.
- Participation with the survey is voluntary and email reminders are sent to the trainee one week after the first email.
- LTSIs typically contain between 60 and 80 statements that are intended to measure the 16 factors most likely to influence learning transfer.
- The answer scales on LTSIs are typically Likert-type scales ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). For each statement, the respondents select one response between 1 and 5.
Here is a list of the 16 factors with definitions and item examples to show how the LTSI works:
These eleven specific factors aim to gauge the extent to which the respondents felt about the course and its delivery.
1. Learner readiness
Learner readiness is defined as the extent to which respondents feel prepared to enter and participate in training.
Example: Prior to the training, I understood how it would fit my job-related development.
2. Motivation to transfer
The LTSI defines motivation to transfer as “the direction, intensity, and persistence of effort toward utilizing in a work setting skills and knowledge learned.”
Example: I get excited when I think about trying to use my new learning on my job.
3. Positive personal outcomes
This factor refers to whether the participants feel that apply training on the job leads to positive outcomes.
Example: Employees in my organization are rewarded when they utilize newly learned skills on the job.
4. Negative personal outcomes
The extent to which participants believe that not applying skills and knowledge learned in training will lead to outcomes that are negative.
Example: “If I do not utilize my training, I will be cautioned about it.”
5. Personal capacity for transfer
This factor refers to the extent to which participants feel they have time, energy and mental space in their work lives to make changes required to transfer learning on the job.
Example: My typical daily workload gives me time to try new things I have learned.
6. Peer support
The extent to which peers offer reinforcement of new training and support their colleagues to use new learning on the job.
Example: My colleagues encourage and support me to use the skills I have learned in training.
7. Supervisor support
This factor measures the extent to which respondents feel their supervisors offer support and reinforcement of training on the job.
Example: My supervisor encourages me to apply my training on the job and sets goals for me.
8. Supervisor sanctions
The extent to which supervisors are perceived to impose sanctions when respondents apply newly learned skills on the job.
Example: My supervisor is opposed to my use of newly learned skills on the job.
9. Perceived content validity
The extent to which participants feel their training content matches their job requirements accurately.
Example: The training content closely matches my job requirements.
10. Transfer design
The extent to which respondents feel the training has been designed and delivered to foster learning transfer on the job.
Example: The training exercises and/or activities helped me apply my new learning on the job.
11. Opportunity to use
The degree to which respondents feel they were given resources that enabled them to use their newly learned skills on the job.
Example: I feel I have adequate resources to use what I learned on the job.
These five general factors aim to gauge the extent to which the LTSI respondents felt about training and their organization in general.
12. Transfer effort performance expectations
This factor measures the respondent’s expectation that learning will result in on-the-job changes.
Example: My work performance improves when I learn to use new skills on the job.
13. Performance outcomes expectations
This factor determines the respondent’s expectation that on-the-job changes will result in valued outcomes.
Example: When I improve my performance, I receive positive benefits and outcomes.
14. Openness to change
This factor measures 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.
Example: My colleagues are open to implementing on-the-job changes.
15. Performance self-efficacy
This factor aims to measure the respondent’s belief that they are able to change their performance.
Example: I feel able to implement newly learned skills on the job.
16. Performance coaching
This final factor measures both formal and informal indicators from an organization about an employee’s job performance.
Example: I receive feedback from colleagues and supervisors about how well I am applying what I have learned.
If you were curious about the Learning Transfer System Inventory, that’s about it.
The LTSI is commonly used by organizations that are seeking to understand and promote learning transfer. By focusing on the relationship between social support in the workplace (peer support, supervisor sanctions) and learning transfer from training, the LTSI produces statistically significant insights into the variance in ratings of job performance.