From the Classroom to the Workplace: Enhancing the Transfer of Learning

Background to the research

This research, conducted by Ashridge Business School between May and October 2010, explores the transfer of learning from management development programmes to the workplace, and considers the influence on transfer of various factors from the three key areas within the transfer system: individual characteristics, programme design, and the work environment.

By gaining a clearer understanding of the effects of these factors on transfer, we hoped to be able to determine the most appropriate and effective ways of improving transfer at the various stages of the learning process. What can individuals, programme designers, and organisations do to help to enhance transfer from development programmes?

What is the transfer system?

The transfer system includes all factors which bear influence on whether or not an individual will apply learning from development programmes back in the workplace. The system is made up of three distinct, but interlinked areas: individual characteristics; programme design; and the work environment.

Kirwan and Birchall's Model of Learning Transfer

As the model below illustrates, these factors influence transfer through a variety of different interactions2


Key Findings

  • Individual characteristics was the strongest predictor of transfer, and rated as the strongest facilitator of transfer, and the only area that had a significant, unique influence on transfer
  • Whilst not always aware of what to expect from programmes, participants did perceive benefits of attending
  • The work environment was only a weak predictor of transfer and rated as a weak facilitator of transfer
  • Programme design was the weakest predictor of transfer, and rated as only a weak facilitator of transfer
  • Participants were motivated to apply learning, confident they could improve their performance, and took responsibility for creating opportunities to apply learning
  • Many reverted to type however, under pressure
  • Majority found content relevant, and considered the methods used helpful in transferring the learning
  • Many expected little feedback from managers, but received it on their return to work in the form of increased responsibility, and opportunities to use learning
  • Time was the biggest barrier to transfer, although this was not anticipated, and resistance to change and lack of leadership opportunities also prominent barriers
  • Manager support, openness to change, and autonomy were key facilitators of transfer


The report makes a number of recommendations for individuals, programme designers and organisations. To find out more, download the report.


Continuing Our Understanding

Learner Attitude and Context Scale

This research, along with the findings from previous work undertaken by Ashridge, has led to the development of the Learner Attitude and Context Scale (LACS). LACS is a questionnaire that assesses the individual’s attitudes and motivations to learning and transferring learning, and provides recommendations as to how to enhance learning transfer. Additionally, the tool will generate a corporate report for our client organisations which will provide a profile of how likely their organisation is to facilitate the transfer of learning for their participants, and again, make recommendations for measures that can be taken to improve transfer of learning.

For more information regarding this tool, please contact Lee Waller