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Training Transfer

Training transfer means that learners are able to “transfer” their knowledge and skills learned in a training session back to their jobs. The importance of training transfer cannot be overemphasized. Organizations spend billions of dollars each year on training, yet only a fraction of that investment results in improved performance if training transfer is not supported by stakeholders (i.e. any individual or group that has a “stake” in the transfer of training). These include managers, peers, customers and the employer. Stakeholders also assume responsibility for supporting transfer.

The goal of training is not simply to gain knowledge and skills, but to transfer learning into performance, which in turn leads to improvements in agency results. Training transfer is not an event; it is a dynamic and complex process that requires planning.


There are no specific regulations related to transfer. However, the definition of training in 5 USC 41 implies transfer in the following italicized portion of the definition-- “training” means the process of providing for and making available to an employee, and placing or enrolling the employee in, a planned, prepared, and coordinated program, course, curriculum, subject, system, or routine of instruction or education, in scientific, professional, technical, mechanical, trade, clerical, fiscal, administrative, or other fields which will improve individual and organizational performance and assist in achieving the agency’s mission and performance goals.

Federal Government Tools and Resources

The following are federal references and resources that can be used to help increase understanding of training transfer: 

Private Sector Tools and Resources

The following are private sector references and resources that can be used to help increase understanding of training transfer:

  • Broad, M.L., & Newstrom, J.W., (1992).  Transfer of Training: Action Packed Strategies To High Payoff From Training Investment.  Basic Books.
    - This book describes the importance of training transfer and provides strategies for increasing the effectiveness of training initiatives in the workplace.
  • Carnes, B. (2010).  Making Learning Stick: 20 Easy and Effective Techniques for Training Transfer.  Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.
    - This book provides strategies that can help increase training transfer.
  • Holton III, E.F., & Baldwin, T.T. (2003).  Improving Learning Transfer in Organizations. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
    - This book takes the viewpoints from experts in the field of learning transfer and offers information, ideas, and theories on the topic and illustrates how to put transfer systems into action.
  • Burke, L.A., & Hutchins, H.M. (2007).  Training Transfer: An Integrative Literature Review.  Human Resource Development Review, 6(3), 263-296.
    - This journal article is a review of the training transfer scientific literature.  The article provides information on multiple factors related to training transfer (i.e., learner characteristics, intervention design and delivery, and work environment influences) and provides strategies on how to increase training transfer.
  • Coates, D.E. (2007).  InfoLine: Enhance The Transfer of Learning.  Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.
    - This publication by ASTD provides general information about training transfer, along with tools and recommendations that could be used to help increase transfer.
  • Transfer of Learning: A Guide to Strengthening the Performance of Health Care Workers (2002).  Prime II & Jhpiego Corporation.
    - This publication provides general information about training transfer and provides a "transfer of learning matrix."  The matrix can be used as a job aid and provides the framework for a set of recommendations that could be used to increase the transfer of learning.

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Why is Training Transfer Relevant?

In 2010 the American Society for Training and Development estimated that U.S. organizations spent about $171.5 billion on employee learning and development and $1,228 per trainee. Research indicates that only about 10-20% of training is transferred into the workplace.  When training does not transfer it is likely that trainees and supervisors will question the benefit of their investment in the training.  In other words, time and money are both wasted. 

With the increased austerity of government resources, an evolving workforce, and the amplified focus on measuring and justifying investments, training investments are coming under increasing scrutiny.  The use of effective transfer of training principles can help maximize the effectiveness of training initiatives, many of which are influenced by critical forces, such as, interdependence among agencies, employee development, talent retention, new technology, skill gaps, and alignment of individual training to agency-specific priorities.

It is vital to design and implement effective training programs to help address these forces and further agency objectives. It is also important to recognize and overcome the many factors that can inhibit the transfer of training, such as lack of accountability, inadequate resources, and few opportunities to use training knowledge.

Other Factors That Affect Training Transfer:
Training transfer is affected by many different stakeholders.  The primary stakeholders can be grouped into four categories: Supervisors, Trainers, Trainees, and Co-workers. All stakeholders must have a strong interest in training initiatives, agree to work together to support the full application of the training on the job, and be committed to making the training investment pay off. Training transfer can also be viewed from the standpoint of when transfer strategies occur.  Transfer strategies can be viewed from the standpoint of three different timeframes: Before Training, During Training, and After Training. Transfer strategies should not be selected at random.  They should be selected while considering the stakeholders, timeframes, and many other variables.  For example, whether the training will be created in-house or will be provided by a vendor will have a significant impact on the transfer strategies that are available to use.

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