5 Transfer of Learning Myths that MUST be addressed!

Emma Weber

Someone recently said to me “is ‘learning transfer’ the transfer of learning from the trainer to the learners?”


I wasn’t quite sure what to say. But, in a word, no!!

So I thought it was time to clarify the myths in learning transfer. Starting with the above.

 1. Is “learning transfer” the transfer of learning from the trainer to the learners?”

Urr.. no, fraid not! Learning transfer is the ability of a learner to successfully apply the behaviour, knowledge, and skills acquired through learning, to the job, with a resulting improvement in job performance. In essence – learning + application = improved performance! The myth that transfer is the transfer from the trainer to the learners implies that the knowledge and the information is more important than the behavioural change from the learning. We would 100% argue that behavioural change from learning is much more important, after all it’s what you do with what you learn that makes the difference.

2. Is learning transfer the same as the evaluation of learning?

Like salt and sugar, evaluation and learning transfer – seemingly very similar – are actually quite different. They are inextricably linked, but we need two different strategies for both. All too often by measuring knowledge, organisations feel they are achieving transfer, but we know that this is not the case. Getting an indication of the retention of knowledge will not create change or support learners in transferring their new behaviours. Often once learning transfer creates change, the whole discussion around evaluation changes when organisations start to see the results in front of their eyes.

3. Learning transfer is a business issue, not a learning issue.

All too often at the end of a learning initiative, the learning team, exhilarated and exhausted, wipe their hands of this cohort and the problem of learning transfer is left in the hands of the business. But as we often see, back in the rush of the day to day it can be very hard to prioritise checking in on your learning with a manager. It’s time for learning to take ownership of the learning transfer element of the process and ensure that the fabulous learning they are delivering is being sustained and creating real change and success for the business. But that doesn’t mean the business are completely off the hook! It’s an issue for collaboration, not an abdication by one side or the other.

4. Learning transfer is too hard

Nope! It just doesn’t need to be. Plan up front and get organised. Crunch the numbers – do managers have the time and tools to deliver quality learning transfer follow up conversations? Upskill them, or give them the technology support to assist. Or if the maturity or culture of the managers really is too hard to utilise, then look towards external specialists or training up an internal group of learning transfer specialists. If you have good systems and processes in place for learning transfer then great, if not – get help! We recently trained up an internal team at one organisation in our learning transfer process, yet we have maintained management of the logistics – because the reality is that the logistics side of learning transfer can be tricky. But you don’t need to battle it alone. We have over a decade of experience in how to get the best results from a logistics point of view – think 80% of your cohort completing their learning transfer and capturing results at the 100 day mark, rather than 10%!

5. Learning transfer is just too expensive

If you are struggling to get budget or C-suite approval then start small and be realistic about what you can achieve. Find ways to give the leaders within your organisation an experience of good quality follow up. Once they start to see the results there’ll be no stopping you! Yes learning transfer spend may up your expenditure a bit. But riddle me this – with global spend on corporate learning and development continuing to rise to over US$140 billion and up year on year (Bersin et al., 2016) – how can we keep spending vast sums on learning and development throughout the business unless the new skills, competencies and behaviours are actually deployed within the organisation?

I’d argue that learning transfer could never be deemed too expensive when it is actually going to create the outcomes that you are striving for, and indeed – paying for. Depending on the maturity of leaders at your organisation and the level of strategic importance of the initiative, there are many different learning transfer options that can support to create a cost effective outcome from learning. Give me a call on +61 2 8221 8833 if you’d like to chat through these different options.


Keen to learn more about transfer?

Join me on my upcoming webinar with research expert Will Thalheimer “Transfer Research Reveals Learning-to-Performance Secrets”.


Emma Weber

Emma Weber is a recognized authority on the transfer of learning. As CEO of Lever – Transfer of Learning, she has helped companies such as Telstra, Oracle and BMW deliver and measure tangible business results from learning. Emma has also been a guest speaker at learning effectiveness conferences worldwide and authored the hugely successful book Turning Learning into Action. Much more detail around the issues and solutions examined in this article are available in the book – please feel free to download a free chapter.