No Image Available

Raed Haddad

Read more from Raed Haddad

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Applying training on the job: how to turn hope into reality


Raed Haddad looks at why the transfer of learning often fails and how to develop effective practices to make it work.

Training is a rite of passage for many employees and required for the certifications and knowledge needed to progress in their careers. While organisations may take the time to prepare an employee for training and budget for them to attend a learning course, most organisations still struggle to assess and support the transfer of learning from training programmes into the workplace.  

According to the American Society for Training and Development, there is a 70/20/10 rule when it comes to learning and development. Research shows employees learn:

  • 70 percent through real-life and on-the-job experiences.
  • 20 percent through mentoring or coaching.
  • 10 percent through formal training.

Therefore, organisations must ensure that learning be applied on the job - in an immediate way - to improve actual employee performance and generate a positive business impact. 

"One finds that hope and reality are two very different things when it comes to the transfer of learning in the workplace."

What is required for the transfer of training to the workplace? This question has been posed by researchers since the early 20th century, but has intensified in recent years due to economic challenges, an evolving workforce, and increased organisational focus on measuring and justifying training investments. In general, the transfer of learning takes place when organisations:

  • Develop an overall learning transfer plan.
  • Implement tools and processes to reinforce the application of learning post-training.
  • Measure if and to what extent learning is applied on the job.
  • Advocate for full manager support and involvement. 

To identify breakdowns in the transfer of learning and develop best practices for addressing these gaps, ESI conducted a survey in March 2011. Titled Applying Training and Transferring Learning to the Workplace: How to Turn Hope into Reality, the global study highlights the shortfalls in applying training and opportunities for improvement.

Survey findings

More than 3,000 government and commercial training-related managers assessed three key phases in the application and transfer of learning: pre-training strategies, post-training reinforcement and rewards or incentives used to motivate employees.

Overall, the study highlights several weak areas in the on-the-job application of learning, including manager support, trainee preparation, incentives, and an overall formal design and measurement process. The findings show that:

  • 60 per cent of those surveyed do not have a systematic approach to preparing a trainee to transfer, or apply, learning on-the-job. 
  • When asked what specific rewards motivate trainees, almost 60 per cent say the "possibility of more responsibility", followed closely by an impact on their HR/performance review. Only 20 per cent indicate that there is any financial reward or other incentives. 
  • 63 per cent say managers formally endorse the programme, while only 23 per cent of managers hold more formal pre- and post-training discussions.

But most surprising, the study suggests that organisations start out optimistic and hopeful that they are fully committed and engaged in the transfer of learning, but upon further questioning, one finds that hope and reality are two very different things when it comes to the transfer of learning in the workplace.

For example, while two-thirds of respondents estimate that they apply more than 25 per cent of training knowledge back on-the-job, they have little concrete proof. Almost 60 per cent say the primary method for proving or measuring this estimate is either informal/anecdotal feedback or "simply a guess".  

The study points out some striking contradictions in how well organisations think they transfer learning and the lack of proof to back up their estimate of learning transfer or on-the-job application. Client experience at ESI shows us that organisations often fail to establish success criteria or identify expectations for learning engagements. This is a key pre-training strategy in order to measure trainee performance against agreed upon standards.

On the other hand, when it comes to post-learning tools and programmes, survey responses show employees leveraging an ever-expanding array of tactics to recall information learned during training, including post course discussions with the manager or team leader, on-the-job tools, informal support such as social networks or online forums, and communities of practice such as peer groups and coaching.

The top three strategies indicated as the most important for the transfer of learning are that trainees have the time, resources and responsibility to apply learning; trainees have manager support; and the instruction approach simulates the actual work environment.

Employees need to know that the application of learning is a priority for management. Management can show this by aligning training with company strategy and motivating employees by setting expectations beforehand and offering incentives for them to succeed.  

Increasing the application of learning

Through open-ended questions, the survey also asked respondents to share specific learning transfer tactics and identify best practices. The responses resemble a wish list of actions that management or sponsors should do more of, and they fall broadly into the following areas:

  • Incorporate real projects in the training.
  • Conduct more training and/or better marketing and communication on what exists.
  • Communicate a transparent measurement strategy.
  • Establish change management guidelines.
  • Increase managers’ involvement before and after training.
  • Make training more relevant.

Trainees should understand that the organisation or sponsor expects them to apply what is learned and that there will be an assessment of training impact by collecting data from them and other stakeholders, such as clients.  

In the end, holding employees accountable for learning transfer means the onus is on organisations to communicate the vision and reasons why a change in knowledge/skills/competencies is needed to support the company’s growth.   


Raed Haddad, Senior Vice President, Global Delivery Services, ESI International, has more than 25 years of multi-cultural, project management expertise across a range of industries, including health care, technology, government, telecom and financial services. Click here for a free copy of the full ESI study, Applying Training and Transferring Learning to the Workplace: How to Turn Hope into Reality


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!