Book review: Learning Transfer at Work

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Written by Jon Kennard on 30 November 2018

The primary purpose of training should be improved employee performance. Can any of us disagree with this statement? However, many training interventions do not focus enough on the learning transfer to enable this to occur.

This isn’t just the view of Paul Matthews; the Saratoga/PWC Key Trends in Human Capital report (2005) reports that in 2003 organisations across Europe spent £1.03bn on leadership training with little evidence of return on investment. A report in 2017 by Tris Brown found post-training changes in only one in five participants.

Learning transfer is the elephant in the room that is being ignored by far too many L&D providers. This book begins to redress this by introducing the reader to processes and activities that look this elephant in the eye and enable a reduction in the time from training to proficiency. Be aware: the learning transfer elephant has three friends.

Paul Matthews walks the reader through a deeper understanding of learning transfer, the strategy to get there, the support needed and the ways to measure. The training programme should be thought of as a workflow, as a chain of events and therefore only as strong as its weakest link.

Learning transfer is the elephant in the room that is being ignored by far too many L&D providers.

One weak link is how we measure outcomes, who in L&D doesn’t like and use the post-event happy sheet? Measuring learning effectiveness in this way, and only at this point, is like measuring the success of a marriage based on how good the wedding was.

This book is crammed with references and links to theories, reports and academic papers to reinforce the message and broaden the reader's knowledge. It is also a book of two halves, the first being an in-depth exploration of the subject and the second being ‘tips, ideas and questions’.

So, is the answer to effective learning transfer here? In short, yes. But, be aware, it isn’t easy, it requires buy-in from stakeholders, line managers and senior management as well as the trainees. It requires a complete re-think of the approach to training. 

It is a must read for L&D managers and their teams. It deserves to be a well-thumbed and essential resource.

Having used this approach my advice would be to start with one programme. The change you see, and will be able to objectively measure, will change mindsets across the business. 


About the reviewer

Janet North is a freelance L&D professional and is available for competence and learning and development positions.



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