Beyond the Buzzword: Unpacking 'Training Transfer' Part 1

Welcome to the inaugural post in a series on the elusive concept of training transfer, a critical yet often overlooked aspect of professional development.

Before we start, I have to take this opportunity (I will always take an opportunity) to climb my soapbox on jargon. The term "Training Transfer" pulls off a maddening feat. It is simultaneously hyper literal - it is exactly what it sounds like - but somehow succeeds at alienating the reader from it's very simple meaning by dressing itself in the garb of academic complexity.

So, what is the very simple meaning? Training Transfer captures whether or not you could take what you learned in one setting- like a training- and apply it in a more important setting- like your job. Training Transfer is the whole ballgame (which is why I think it needs a re-brand)! It's the heartbeat of what makes learning stick once we're back in the thick of work, ensuring the valuable skills and insights we gain during training don't just evaporate the moment we step back into our daily roles.

But right now the evaporation is very real and very expensive.

We've all come back to our desks after a training, accosted by a colleague who has the sheer audacity to ask us what we learned, when we weren't even clear what the goal was, why the speaker shared their life history, or why there were 16 unstructured breakout sessions based on incredibly dense powerpoint slides. Mind you business, Tom!

We've all been there. And that is the big dilemma.

Organizations pour enormous resources (billions!) into training and development because learning is **indeed** critical to organizational success. Companies invest in learning to gain or maintain a competitive advantage- they need to ensure employees have the skills and knowledge to adapt to a rapidly changing economy. Health and safety professionals invest in learning and development because the stakes are high and mistakes cost lives.

So we're investing a ton of time and money into providing training with the goal of improving performance where it matters- on the job. But it's just not working. Training transfer is incredibly rare, some studies put the success rate at only 10-22%.  The bridge between training and application is broken and that is frustrating to everyone, learners and and employers.

The good news? We're getting better at understanding what makes training training effective, more specifically what types of training help learners take what they learned and apply it at work. At its core training transfer is aiming for two objectives: generalizability (ensuring the skills and knowledge can be applied across various contexts) and maintenance (skills and knowledge are sustained over time). And achieving these goals is possible through a combination of well-researched strategies and practices, focusing on three key areas: training design, individual characteristics, and organizational environment.

In the next post, we'll start with the first of these areas: training design. We'll explore how a well-structured training program can set the stage for meaningful learning that translates into real-world application.