Who Reports Transferring Skills that Weren’t Trained?

Topic: Training
Publication: International Journal of Selection and Assessment (DEC 2010)
Article: Transferring more than learned in training: Employees’ and managers’ (over)generalization of skills
Authors: D.S. Chiaburu, K.B. Sawyer and C.N. Thoroughgood
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Given the extensive costs associated with training a workforce, assessing the “bang-for-your-buck” is a vital step in the overall training process.  Specifically, it is (as many would argue) essential to evaluate the effectiveness of organizational training courses with measures of learning and transfer. 

A common, yet controversial approach to measuring learning and transfer is to ask employees to report how much they have learned or how well they have transferred their skills following training.  A similar approach is to ask employees’ direct supervsiors to report how well they have transferred the skills learned in training to the job. 

Recent research (see ioatwork review entitled, “Is what we think we know, what we actually know?”) suggests that individuals’ self-assessments of their learning/knolwedge gain are not very accurate.  This is indeed echoed by the results of two studies conducted by Chiaburu et al. (2010).  The authors focused primarily on employee characteristics that influence whether they overgeneralize (e.g., report transferring skills on the job that were not actually covered in training) their transfer several months after attending an organziational training course. 

In addition to finding evidence that employees overgeneralize their transfer of skills, Chiaburu et al. (2010) found that supervisors also overgeneralized their employees’ transfer by indicating that employees improved in areas that were not addressed in the training course.  This tendency was less dramatic for skills that are more easily observable by supervisors (e.g., used on the job daily).  

Interestingly, the authors identified conscientiousness as a key personality characteristic that made transfer overgeneralization more likely.  This means that highly conscientious employees were more likely to overgeneralize their transfer than their less conscientious peers.  Furthermore, conscienous employees who are also perfectionists or are insecure were the most likely to overgeneralize their transfer.  

This research calls into question the accuracy and usefuleness of employee and supervisor ratings of transfer of training.  After all, if employees and managers report the transfer of skills that were not covered in training, how much stock can we really put into such ratings?  As Chiaburu et al. point out, these types of ratings are not objective measures of transfer.  However, if organizations insist on using self-report measures of transfer of training, they may consider including items of skills unrelated to the training course in question.  This simple addition may help organizations understand the (in)accuracy of such ratings. 

An organization’s best bet, however, is to invest the time and money needed to appropriately assess learning and transfer with objective measure of learning, knowledge gain, and skill acquisition and maintenance.  Though more expensive and time consuming, such measures are much more likely to provide an accurate picture of the effectiveness of a training program and highlight opportunities for improvement. 

Chiaburu, D.S., Dawyer, K.B., & Thoroughgood, C.N. (2010). Transferring more than learned in training: Employees’ and managers’ (over)generalization of skills. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 18(4), 380-393.