When I teach learning workshops, I often ask the attendees: “What is transfer of training? How do we know it has occurred?’ Of course, I always get the same answer: “If the learner can apply what he or she has learned in a course back on the job, then training transfer has occurred.” So, I then follow up and ask: “If you are a manager and one of your direct reports takes a course and then applies it on the job the next day, has transfer occurred?” I usually get some head nods, but inevitably some people start to question their first definition. Someone might even say: “Well, the behavior needs to be repeatable over time. Just applying it once does not demonstrate transfer.” Exactly.
If you dig a little deeper, there are four key attributes to training transfer that must be demonstrated for that transfer to be considered successful:
Specifically, we are looking for mid and long-term effects. If a learner can demonstrate transfer immediately after a course that’s great, but what about a week, a month or six months later?
Rarely does a required behavior present itself on the job exactly the way it was presented in class. Typically, classes present idealized scenarios. The real world of work does not typically present idealized scenarios. Can the learner generalize what he/she has learned to the real world?
Some tasks, in some jobs, give the employee time to think about how to act and which behavior is required. But others require automaticity. The employee must perform correctly immediately (think machine operators or airline pilots) without a lot of time for weighing options.
We want our employees to be confident, but more so, we want them to be appropriately confident. We want them to employ their new skills when they are appropriately called for.