Training transfer obstacles practice essay
The following post is an essay researched and written in anticipation of an exam question for the module Training and Development in pursuit of the Organizational Psychology Master's qualification within the University of London's International Programmes (Birkbeck College). Excerpts may be be used with the citation:
Aylsworth, J. (2011). Failure to transfer: Obstacles and guidance. (url) Accessed: (Month year).
Exam essay question:
"What are the major obstacles to the successful transfer of training from the learning environment to the workplace? What guidance does the available research provide for practitioners seeking to overcome these obstacles?"
Failure to Transfer:
Obstacles and Guidance
As Kirkpatrick (1967) argued, transfer of training (TOT) from the learning environment to the workplace is central to judging the success of training. Identifying and addressing obstacles to “the transfer problem” (Goldstein & Ford, 2002) is particularly important because lack of positive transfer wastes billions of dollars.
Aguinis and Kraiger (2009) write that U.S. companies alone spend $126 billion annually on training and development. Georgenson (1982) estimates that only 10% of U.S. training expenditures result in positive transfer. If that estimate is even close to actual transfer rates, the waste is still well into the billions.
Alluding to resources wasted on training, Robinson and Robinson (1995) write that less than 30% of what is learned during training is actually used on the job. Saks (2002) found that 40% of trainees failed to transfer immediately after training; 70% after 1 year. Surprisingly, fewer than 5% of training programs are assessed in terms of their financial benefits to the organization (Swanson, 2001).
We will begin with a brief discussion of training, how it relates to development, and what we mean by “transfer of training.” Then, we’ll look at some of the obstacles and useful guidance, using Baldwin and Ford’s (1988) model as a template. We will conclude with a brief mention of other issues that are relevant for TOT and the observation that all three features of Baldwin and Ford’s (1988) model should be considered together if further progress is to be made.
Training, according to a common British definition (Department of Employment, 1971), is about the individual acquiring attitudes, knowledge, skills and behaviors necessary for successful job performance. However, a typical U.S.-based definition (Hinrichs, 1976) contexts what happens to the individual during training as contributing to the effectiveness of the organization.
Goldstein and Ford (2002) distinguish between “training” and “development,” writing that the latter “refers to activities leading to the acquisition of new knowledge or skills”… “for personal growth.” However, Aguinis and Kraiger (2009) use “training” to refer to both training and development.
Transfer of training (TOT) can be superficially described as “knowledge and skills” being “transferred from one job or task to another” (Hesketh, 1997). "Analogical transfer” refers to similarities between the training and transfer tasks, and “adaptive transfer” is about using what is learned is used to change a learned procedure or create a new solution (Ivancic & Hesketh, 2002). The latter equates with “generalizablity,” which along with application and maintenance of learning over time, more fully describes TOT (Ford & Wesbein, 1997).
Finally, “learning,” can be thought of as “a relatively permanent change in knowledge or skill produced by experience” (Weiss, 1991). Learning must also be inferred because it is not directly observable given that it involves cognitive changes leading to integration within trainees’ existing frameworks (Goldstein & Ford, 2002). It is also a “social activity” (Druckman & Bjork, 1994) as well as a “complex and multi-dimensional construct" (Kraiger et al., 1993).
Baldwin and Ford’s (1998) transfer of training framework is useful for examining obstacles and evidence relevant for TOT. According to the framework, TOT is influenced by: 1) trainee characteristics, 2) training design, and 3) the work environment.
Trainee characteristics & obstacles. As Goldstein and Ford (2002) write, trainees “do not just fall from the sky.” They arrive with varied personality characteristics, some of which are not favorable for positive transfer. For example, Colquitt et al., (2002), in their review, found a negative relationship between anxiety, negative affect and TOT. And, counter-intuitively, they found a negative relationships between TOT and conscientiousness and internal locus of control, findings they admitted were puzzling.
“Personalization of transfer” (Baldwin et al., 2008), can also be an obstacle. It refers to the trainee ultimately being the one to decide whether and how much training transfers, which may be related to the design feature of letting trainees choose among interventions. Clark (2002) found that choice was linked to trainee impressions of being for personal development versus use on the job.
Training design.The most significant training design predictors of TOT were found to be perceived relevance and usefulness (Axtell et al., 1995) as well as alignment with the individual’s own priorities and personal learning goals (Taylor & Spencer, 1994). Clark (2002) also found short duration of the training to be an obstacle.
The work environment. Moving to the work environment, which has been playing “catch-up” with the first two factors, we run into the idea of a “continuous learning environment,” or “the learning organization” (Senge, 1990) which basically assumes that such a thing as a unified organizational culture exists, and if that culture does “x” or has “y,” transfer will be enhanced. Even though Tracey et al., (1995) have operationalized this construct and some evidence has been found to support it, we agree with Sloman (1999), who writes that it is underdefined and “woolly.” To illustrate, Senge’s definition of a learning organization includes the rather absurd idea of “collective aspiration” being “set free.”
Instead, we appreciate Rouillier and Goldstein’s (1993’s) findings that “studying climate at a broad level allows for no significant relationship between climate and transfer.” They look at TOT as consisting of situational cues (workplace elements that remind trainees of their training) and consequences (rewards and punishment, including feedback).
Clark’s (2002) evidence here suggests a number of obstacles that are present back on the job: 1) heavy workloads, 2) time pressures, 3) lack of reinforcement, 4) an absence of feedback, and the 5) perception of training for the purpose of personal development (mentioned above).
Clark’s findings suggest strong support for: 1) providing the opportunity to use training on the job, and 2) providing feedback and social support as “chief components of the organizational environment construct posited by Baldwin and Ford (1988).”
Focusing specifically on “obstacles,” we have omitted several TOT-relevant issues: “hard” versus “soft” skill learnability (Brush & Licata, 1983); lack of research on the role of the trainer, predictor differences for short- versus long-term transfer (specifically the importance of autonomy for long-term transfer) (Axtell et al.,1995), and incorporating relapse prevention into the training (e.g. Marx, 1982; Frayne & Latham, 1987).
We conclude by observing that the TOT literature has come a long way since Wexley (1984) wrote that that it offered little value to practitioners – and also since Cheng & Ho (1998) wrote that it was still not mature. Perhaps Cheng and Hampson’s (2008) intention to apply the theory of planned behavior by looking at trainees’ intention to transfer will lead to further progress. At the very least, it is a reminder that all three of Baldwin and Ford’s (1933) stages must be considered together in the pursuit of further progress.
Exam performance: This essay was submitted for tutor comment as a practice exam answer. The tutor indicated that the answer would pass without difficulty if written under exam conditions.