Another Shot at the Transfer Problem

Topic: Training
Publication: Journal of Management (JUL 2010)
Article: Transfer of training: A meta-analytic review
Authors: B.D. Blume, J.K. Ford, T.T. Baldwin, and J.L. Huang
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Organizations spend massive amounts of money on employee training and development every year with the expectation that what is learned in training will be transferred to and used on the job.  But there’s a problem: it has been well established that employees often do NOT transfer what they learn to the job.  In the continuing pursuit of solutions to this “transfer problem”, Blume et al. present a meta-analysis that explored predictors of transfer of training.

Confirming the existence of the “transfer problem”, Blume et al. found that post-training knowledge (usually measured with a post-test) is only a modest predictor of transfer of training.  Utility reactions, which refer to trainees’ perceptions of the usefulness or relevance of the training content to their jobs, were also only modestly related to transfer.  Other measures of training effectiveness that had small but meaningful relationships with transfer included post-training self-efficacy and motivation.  However, finding out how much employees enjoy their training experience is NOT a good indication of how effectively they will transfer their learning to the job.

While there were many individual and organizational characteristics that lead some employees to transfer their knowledge more effectively than others, the best predictors of transfer of training were cognitive ability, conscientiousness, a work climate that facilitates transfer and voluntarily participating in training.

Importantly, Blume et al. distinguish between closed skills and open skills.  While closed skills are performed similarly or exactly like they are taught in training (e.g., computer program), open skills refer to sets of principles that can be applied in many different ways (e.g., leadership skills).  That is, there is no one “right way” to perform open skills. Interestingly, Blume et al. discovered that most of the predictors investigated were more predictive of transfer for open skills.  The exception is cognitive ability, which was found to be much more strongly related to transfer of closed skills than for open skills.

Blume et al. conclude that there is “no magic bullet” for predicting transfer of training and thus the transfer problem must be attacked from multiple angles with multiple strategies.  The authors note that strategies for increasing trainees’ motivation prior to training and preparing coworkers and supervisors to support employees in transferring their learning to the job have high potential for improving transfer of training.

Despite their practical suggestions, Blume et al. suggest that the most effective way for an organization to enhance transfer of training is to integrate learning into its culture.  In other words, new (and possibly expensive) processes are not necessary to enhance trainees’ transfer.

 

Blume, B.D., Ford, J.K., Baldwin, T.T., & Huang, J.L. (2010). Transfer of
training: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Management, 36(4), 1065-1105.