How Trainers May Contribute to the Transfer Problem

Topic(s): organizational development, training
Publication: Human Resource Management
Article: A missing link in the transfer problem? Examining how trainers learn about training transfer
Authors: H.M. Hutchins, L.A. Burke, A.M. Berthelsen
Reviewed by: Benjamin Granger

There are many reasons why employees often don’t transfer their training to the job. At a high level, these reasons can include personal attributes of learners, characteristics of the work environment, and the level of supervisory support. However, researchers (Hutchins et al., 2010) note that trainers themselves play an important role in determining if employees transfer what they learn on the job. These authors speculate that the ways trainers learn about transfer may be a possible contributor to the so-called “transfer problem.”


The researchers surveyed 139 members of the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) about their preferred methods of learning about training transfer. According to their results, training practitioners tend to use informal methods to learn about training transfer (e.g., learn through experience on the job, talk with other training professionals, search relevant websites, etc.). A relatively smaller percentage of professional trainers reported using more formal approaches, such as attending conferences or using practice-based academic courses. However, the practitioners surveyed reported preferring more formal approaches, due partly to their credibility.

Training practitioners also reported learning about training practices by reading the practitioner-based training publications such as Training and Training and Development (T+D). Although the frequency with which training professionals reported reading such periodicals was quite low, it was much higher than the frequency with which they reported reading the academic literature on training. Interestingly, many of the training practitioners surveyed suggested that the academic literature on training is of little use to them and their needs.

Another potential reason why training professionals may use informal methods of learning about transfer is because searching online, discussing with others, and learning from one’s own experiences are easily accessible. Access to the research literature on training is much less available.


Although the researchers did not specifically explore the link between the preferred learning methods of professional trainers and actual transfer of training, their results suggest that there is likely a rift between trainers’ understanding of transfer and the cutting-edge research on transfer. This may be contributing to the transfer problem.


Hutchins, H.M., Burke, L.A., & Berthelsen, A.M. (2010). A missing link in the transfer problem? Examining how trainers learn about training transfer. Human Resource Management, 49(4), 599-618.