Canada Association of Tourism Employees

Decoding Studying Switch In The Office

Bring training from the classroom to the workplace

I mentioned earlier that it is not enough that learning is made available to users; we have to make it conducive to transferring acquired learning to the workplace. I would like to go into this topic a little deeper in this article.

What is meant by learning transfer?

I would like to define learning transfer as “the extent to which the knowledge, skills and abilities acquired in an apprenticeship lead to a lasting change in the way of working”. This definition was taken from the work of Professors Ramon Wenzel and John Cordery of the University of Western Australia.

Research professors Brian Blume, Kevin Ford, Timothy Baldwin and Jason Huang classify learning transfer into 2 categories:

  1. generalization
    The extent to which knowledge and skills acquired in a learning setting are applied to different settings, people and / or situations.
  2. maintenance
    The extent to which changes resulting from a learning experience persist over time.

As you can see, what has been learned during a learning intervention must be used or transferred to the workplace. Failure to do so will waste the resources and efforts invested in learning, both by organizations and by learners. While the amount of training transferred is controversial, there is no doubt that much of the training makes no difference in the workplace.

How is that to be done?

While there have been a number of studies on learning transfer, the most influential has been from university professors Kevin Ford and Timothy Baldwin.

This simple framework comprised 3 elements:

  1. Training input, which included trainee characteristics, training design, and work environment.
  2. Training output, that is, the amount of learning that took place in a program and how much of it was retained after the intervention was completed.
  3. Transfer Conditions: How the knowledge and skills acquired in a session are retained and transferred over time.

There have been many iterations of this framework and several dimensions have been added. Most of these activities revolved around the pre-workout activity, the training event itself, and the post-workout activity. It is that of Elwood Holton and Timothy Baldwin that I want to refer to here. You extend the period to five points. The focus here is on a learner, a learning event and an organizational context.

Holton and Baldwin explain that at time 1, a learner or learning team comes into the process as both an input and a unit that needs to be considered when we talk about learning transfer.

You bring 4 elements into the process, which also influence the entire transfer process:

  1. capability
  2. motivation
  3. Individual differences
  4. Previous experience

Time 2 corresponds to the activity phase before training. Time 3 would be the equivalent of the training event phase and time 4 would be the post-training activity phase. Points 2 and 4 are crucial here; The most important interventions take place here: the learner / team intervention and the organizational intervention. It is at these two points that the greatest impact occurs. These points 2 and 4 can have pre- and post-stages as well as several interventions. In addition, these two phases can also take a long time.

Point 3, the learning event itself, consists of two dimensions: content and design. The content conveyed in an event must be valid and authentic. The learners must be ready to perform after consuming the content in the workplace. The design part means that what is conveyed in the course of the learning event must be designed in such a way that the learners can apply it in their work.

The fifth point in the model represents the results of a training event. There are 2 aspects that are effected:

  1. Close transfer
  2. Remote transmission

A local transfer is when the actual skills imparted in a training program are applied to the work environment. In a near transfer, the problems a learner faces coincide with the content of a training program.

Remote transfer occurs when learners need to adapt what they have learned to new or changing situations. When a problem in the workplace or problem solving requires a learner to apply their skills differently, it requires far-reaching transference. Remote transfer is difficult to accomplish and requires training design that includes general concepts, general principles, and so on.

Although the above model is a conceptual framework, it can be seen that there are many variables at work when we think about learning transfer. Each of these elements can be addressed and managed to support the learning transfer process within organizations. The entire learning transfer system can be viewed as a combination of two aspects: knowledge acquisition and performance enhancement in the workplace.

Transfer distance is a concept that also needs to be considered when thinking about how learners can transfer their learning to show performance. This model shows that a transfer goes through two phases with six events that represent points on the path from learning to performance. Phase 1 is the learning process, the traditional domain of training. Here a learner moves from knowledge to performance.

Node 1 is the starting point for most trainings where cognitive knowledge, the “knowledge that” is acquired. In order for a transfer to take place, the knowledge must be extended to node 2; the “how-to” knowledge is addressed here. These two nodes are the minimum required to enable transmission. Node 3, the Skill Building through Practice phase, will improve transfer by providing an opportunity to practice what has been learned.

The second phase leads a learner from performance to sustainable performance and represents the work process. Node 4 represents the traditional concept of near transfer, the application of the material to the immediate task. This node also represents knowledge, not just when a learner tries an application. The next step is Node 5. The achieved performance level is repeated and maintained. Sporadic use of learning outcomes is not enough; this must be consistently maintained. Node 6 is the culmination of the learning transfer. The application of learning to tasks that were not originally anticipated by the training but are related to it is addressed here. Thus, the effects of the training program are multiplied.

Why is it important?

For L&D and education departments, it’s not enough to look for great learning programs; it is their responsibility to ensure that learning is carried over from the classroom to the workplace. Any training that leaves learning transfer to chance is likely to be less effective. The role of line managers in promoting the transfer climate should also be emphasized. They too must ensure that the new behaviors or skills are practiced in order for the business results to be achieved.

Carla O’Dell and Lauren Trees outline in their paper “How Smart Leaders Can Leverage Their Experts” that there are at least 3 clear advantages that an organization with an appropriate transfer climate can look forward to:

  1. Turn mid-career employees into real experts
  2. Developing newcomers and newcomers so that they can work independently and participate in an organization
  3. Increase the speed at which new knowledge is created and applied to emerging challenges and opportunities

Improving learning transfer across organizations is key to converting learning into business outcomes. As you can see, it doesn’t matter how big the learning content is if the knowledge and skills acquired are not translated into performance. Following and ensuring the learning transfer contributes to increased learning performance, employee motivation and higher learning opportunities in order to achieve the business goals. The bottom line is clear: if L&D is to play a role, learning must be transferred from the classroom to the workplace.


  • Improving Learning Transfer, Elwood F. Holton & Timothy T. Baldwin Josey-Bass (2003)
  • How Smart Executives Can Use Their Experts by Carla O’Dell and Lauren Trees
  • Training Transfer Research: A Manager’s Guide and Bibliography, Wenzel, R. & Cordery, J. (2014) Australian Institute of Management – Western Australia, Perth.

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