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 essential to evaluate the effectiveness of organizational training courses by measuring whether learning actually took place.
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 supervisors to report how well they have transferred the skills learned in training to the job.
THE RESEARCH STUDY
Recent research suggests that self-assessments of learning are not very accurate. This is echoed by the results of current study (Chiaburu et al., 2010). Here, the authors focused primarily on employee characteristics that influence whether or not employees will overgeneralize, or report transferring skills on the job that were not actually covered in training. This was measured several months after attending an organizational training course.
In addition to finding evidence that employees overgeneralize their transfer of skills, the researchers 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.
Interestingly, the authors found that conscientious employees were more likely to overgeneralize their transfer than their less conscientious peers. Furthermore, conscientious employees who are also perfectionists or are insecure were the most likely to overgeneralize their transfer.
KEY TAKEAWAYS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
This research calls into question the accuracy and usefulness 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 the authors 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 inaccuracy 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.