Section 10.1: What is the Transfer of Learning?

Alisha Naresh; Ekta Nandha; Ivan Galay; and Riselle Peralta

Transfer of learning can have slightly different definitions depending on the context, such as a workplace context or a theoretical point of view. However, these definitions all involve the effective application of learned knowledge and skills gained from an educational program.

How effectively employees can transfer learning in the workplace is determined by the following conditions:

  1. The training content has to be specific and applicable to the job.
  2. The trainees must learn the content.
  3. The trainees need to be motivated to change their job behaviour and apply what they have learned
  4. The trainees must receive supervisor support in applying the learning

An organization can facilitate the transfer of learning in several ways. This aspect is often referred to as the “so what?” or “now what?” phase of the learning process. The transfer of learning¬† occurs whenever our prior knowledge, abilities, and skills influence our learning or the performance of new tasks. Without this transfer occurring, employees cannot achieve the end goal of utilizing their education and training. According to Baldwin and Ford (1988), there is a transfer problem in many organizational training programs. They also mention that while North American industries spend over a hundred billion dollars on employee training and development each year, it is estimated that only ten percent of these expenditures result in the transfer of learning in the organization.


Factors that Influence the Transfer of Learning

Several barriers reported by Newstrom (1986):

  1. There is a lack of on-the-job reinforcement to assist trainees in applying their training to their jobs.
  2. Interference from the immediate environment.
  3. A lack of active support by the organizational climate inhibits the transfer of the program’s content or skills to the workplace.


Several factors inhibiting learning transfer identified by Kemerer (1991):

  1. Structural expectations
  2. The improvement of skills
  3. Establishing rewards


Caffarella (1994) identifies five categories of key influencing factors:

  1. The perceptions of program participants
  2. The program design
  3. The program content
  4. Changes required to apply learning
  5. The organizational context

Several factors influence the transfer of learning. Writers such as Newstrom (1986) have identified key influencing factors that explain why employees do or do not apply what they have learned after to attending a training program. Similarly, Kemerer (1991) suggests that managers can organize factors inhibiting learning transfer around three specific areas. As a result, the introduction of new or changed work expectations must be carefully timed so participants are ready to learn when the training program is offered. Transferring skills in multi-layered, complex organizations requires total vertical integration in which one succeeding management level reinforces the behaviours of subordinate levels.

According to Ottoson (1994), program planners in workplace education have varying degrees of control over their decisions regarding the factors influencing learning transfer. They have the most influence over program design and implementation but probably less influence over the organizational context. As planners have the most influence over the design and implementation of a program, instructors must consider the transfer of learning planning as an integral part of the planning process.


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People Learning and Development Copyright © by Alisha Naresh; Ekta Nandha; Ivan Galay; and Riselle Peralta is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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