8 Awkward Transfer of Learning Problems We All Have

Emma Weber

In our 2017 Learning Transfer Research we found an overwhelming 66% of respondents felt their organisation’s approach to support learners in sustaining their after training behaviour change  “could be improved”. 

With the ever increasing rate of change, workforces must become more skilled and sophisticated. Now more than ever, learning has a responsibility to create real behavioural change and the desired business results.

Do you have any of these 8 awkward transfer of learning problems?

  1. The business is demanding to see an ROI from learning

The biggest issue that Learning & Development leaders face in almost every business is credibility, validity, how to evaluate the success of initiatives, and being seen as an investment rather than a cost centre. By supporting employees to transfer learning with a structured process, training can be implemented into the workplace, business results can be evaluated and distributed, and everyone wins.

  1. Our organisation needs change not content

New learning content isn’t cutting it. Whether you created it or curated it, you might be starting to recognise that you need to shift your priorities from program design to focusing on the behavioural change that you want to deliver. Be specific about the behaviours we need to see in the business that will support strategic initiatives. We cannot do this by simply thinking what we need participants to know – but by creating real clarity for each individual as to what they can be doing differently back in the workplace by supporting them with a learning transfer process.

  1. Our employees are disengaged with learning

Empty training rooms? Training folders and action plans collecting dust soon after a learning initiative? It’s clear to you that learning is not a priority for your employees. It’s likely that it’s not the curriculum that is an issue, but the lack of focus on learning transfer to support change back in the workplace. Invest in your employees learning, but do it in a way that is relevant, that supports them to learn with context and embeds learning into their day to day life in the workplace. This will improve engagement in learning and in turn, business results.

  1. Our employees go straight back to their normal habits and forget what they have learnt after a training program

You know you have the right program to address the needs of the business. It’s been designed well, the learning objectives are clear and you’re proud of the initiative. However, you aren’t creating the results you desire. The business imperative is that learning is a pathway to a different outcome – and if that different outcome doesn’t materialise then the initiative has failed. Find a transfer of learning solution that suits you, to support employees in embedding their learning after a program and create the change you are seeking.

  1. We don’t have the budget for learning transfer

Our Learning Transfer Research found that the UK and Australia are seeing a decrease in learning budgets. While you may be feeling stretched in all directions, consider that perhaps investment into an effective learning transfer solution which will create the desired change to the workforce and may result in an increased budget further down the line once you have “wowed” your organisation with your outcomes.

  1. We focus on individuals rather than the organisation

A recent paper from Harvard Business Review expressed concern that many of us view organisations as an “aggregation of individuals” rather than a “system of interacting elements”. Beer & co suggest that if our learning development models don’t embrace the notion that organisations are systems, and instead purely focus on the individual’s development, then it will set people up to fail. If the system doesn’t change, then it will not support or sustain individual behaviour change. Ensure that your learning initiatives are aligned to business goals to support the system, and support individuals with a learning transfer process that aligns their learning to their individual context, within the system they operate in.

  1. We just want evaluation

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 issue of evaluation becomes much easier when organisations can see the change happening in front of their eyes.

  1. Our managers are not supporting learning transfer

Our Learning Transfer Research found that only 18% of managers are delivering the level of follow up after learning that our experience suggests creates any significant level of successful transfer. Often L&D can experience push back from managers who say learning transfer is “not their job”. We firmly believe that 1:1 coaching style conversations can facilitate effective learning transfer. Our research we found that twice as many learning leaders are finding their organisation’s investment in learning is far superior when leaders practice and demonstrate coaching at every level. Consider the maturity of your organisation and leadership – if the managers are not able to support effective transfer because of lack of skill or time, then find an external learning transfer solution or upskill the managers in how to hold coaching conversations to snowball learning transfer success across the business. We would of course be happy to talk to you about training an internal specialist team or delivering the service for you.

Let’s not shy away from these awkward problems and attack them with vigour. Although the reality of your level of impact from learning initiatives may be uncomfortable to face – you’ll be pleased you did when you start to embrace effective learning transfer and begin to see real results and change from your efforts.


Read the full 2017 Learning Transfer Research here.

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.