In many organizations, a successful hiring process and employee training program can be time-consuming and expensive. The effort and cost are worth it when the result is an efficient and productive new team member.
But new employees often have a hard time effectively transferring everything they learned in training to real-life job situations. Mistakes can ensue, and managers often must step in to fix the problem and remind the employee of proper procedures. Poor knowledge transfer can impair company productivity and employee morale.
Fortunately, there are strategies to implement in your employee training programs to help team members act with confidence and use their training effectively in everyday work situations.
Transfer of learning in the workplace is the process of taking everything you learned about a job during a training program and then applying – or transferring – that knowledge to real-life work situations.
While every organization is unique, most include three stages in the learning transfer process:
With these three elements in mind, here are five tips for improving learning transfer in your organization.
Before any training starts, it’s essential to review the training session’s purpose and clearly identify learning goals and outcomes. This is beneficial for two main reasons:
For example, say you’re training customer service agents to field phone complaints properly. At the beginning of the training, you’d announce the learning goals and expected outcomes:
Because the customer service agents know the expected outcomes, they’ll be more likely to focus on the materials related to these concepts.
When training your employees, it’s essential to use as many real-life examples and situational experiences as possible. If everything is a drill, they won’t be able to transfer much of what they learn from training sessions.
Let trainees shadow employees, field phone calls and get a taste of actual experiences. When combined with drills and exercises, these real-life experiences can facilitate a better transfer of learning and help to develop leadership capabilities.
Managers should be part of their future employees’ training. They know precisely how their department operates, and they may prefer specific protocols that human resources personnel are unaware of. Managers can share expectations with new hires and explain experiences they may encounter.
If the employee needs to interact with other departments, those department managers should also ideally be part of the training program. For example, if you’re training your shipping people, have sales managers instruct them on notifying salespeople about when their customers’ orders have shipped. This boosts efficiency while preventing silos within the company where one department doesn’t know what’s happening in other areas of the company.
At the end of the training program, conduct a post-training briefing where you ensure employees understand how they should apply the skills they’ve learned. Set goals for how they will apply their knowledge moving forward.
It’s also essential to provide participants with ongoing, accessible support. They should have resources where they can ask questions, review concepts and communicate when they’re having trouble transferring knowledge to their job.
After the training program, pair a new hire with a mentor in their department. The mentors should be someone who has been in the position for a while and can show the new team member the ropes. The mentoring period can be for a limited amount of time, just until the new person feels comfortable doing the job.
It’s crucial that the mentor has a lighter workload during this time so they don’t feel pressured, overburdened or resentful of the new hire for taking their time and attention.
Transfer of learning means learning in one context and applying that knowledge in other situations. There are three distinct types of learning transfer.
While transferring something you learned to a new situation seems straightforward, it’s often challenging. People respond differently to training programs, and even if someone understands a concept thoroughly in training, this knowledge might not translate to real-world success.
For example, think about a college football team. Every year, there’s a new crop of athletes, and sometimes first-year students will take a “redshirt” year. During this time, they practice with the team but don’t compete in games. The year is dedicated to learning.
Sometimes a first-year student will get a chance to play. Even rarer, they are named the starting quarterback. They face the challenging task of transferring the knowledge learned in practice to a live-game situation with variables they can’t control.
Even if the athlete performed exceedingly well in practice, they might not achieve success right away.
If an athlete’s practice success doesn’t translate to actual games, the coaches don’t question the player’s athletic abilities. Instead, they think about how they can improve the transfer of learning. They may consider improving their practice structure so players can take more of what they learn on the practice field to the game field.
Business owners and managers should mirror this approach. When you recruit new employees with immense potential but see them underperforming in the workplace, don’t give up on them. Instead, think about how you can improve your training so that employees can take what they learned in the conference room and apply it to the sales floor.
Improvements in the learning transfer process can support employee mental health by reducing the stress of poor communication and job dissatisfaction.
Learning transfer issues have crucial implications for employees, managers, and business owners.
Your training program’s success depends on your ability to facilitate learning transfer among your employees and participants. It’s not about spending more money on training. Instead, focus your attention on giving your training programs the tools to facilitate your employees’ long-term success. It may not be easy, but the more time you spend improving your learning transfer processes, the more dividends you’ll see.
Larry Alton contributed to the writing and research in this article.