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Three critical factors in the Transfer of Learning

Three critical factors

Research has identified a variety of factors which influence the transfer of learning: participant characteristics, programme design, and the work environment. Participant characteristics and programme design, it is argued, influence the learning and retention of material, but their impact on transfer (the extent to which learning is generalised and maintained), is influenced by the work environment to which an individual returns.

  1. Trainee (or participant) characteristics: ability, personality, motivation
  2. Training (or Programme) design: learning principles, sequencing, training content
  3. Work environment: support and opportunity to use the learning.

Specifically, these work environment variables are:

  • Line manager support
  • Opportunities to practise what has been learned
  • Continuous learning environment
  • Perceived value of learning
  • Stretch assignments
  • Autonomy.

Recent event at Ashridge on Transfer of Learning

How do organisations maximise the value of leadership and management development?

Ashridge is currently researching what organisations are doing in practice to support individuals and create an environment conducive to learning transfer.

In particular, we have found that while participants almost always have extremely high levels of satisfaction with their experience on a programme, they often feel frustrated and/or guilty about the rather limited extent to which they have been able to put what they have learned into practice.

Factors such as isolation from programme peers, lack of support from line manager and perceived lack of interest from senior management have all been cited as barriers to learning transfer.

The strong message we have heard from participants is that they would welcome being held more accountable for transferring learning and better supported to do so.

The experience within Ashridge is that clients take widely differing approaches to the extent to which they actively try to maximise learning transfer. To take two superficially similar current programmes: at one end of the spectrum is an organisation that simply nominates participants, collects feedback forms and intervenes no further. At the opposite end we have a client where the head of leadership development personally briefs each participant and their line manager, debriefs at the end of a programme, supports each individual in producing a PDP, and engages the board in ensuring that each participant has an assigned board member with whom they can discuss their development and their plans for applying their learning in their part of the business.