Learning transfer as a form of return on investment – what matters?

Swiss Connect Academy specialises in Leadership and Management courses in Blended Learning. As a training provider, we aim to maximise the chances that our learners benefit from what they learn with us. In adult education, the changes and benefits of learning are part of what is called transfer of learning. Transfer of learning is the change in behaviour as a result of the training and because of what has been learned. Communicating more effectively, managing time and priorities better or adopting a leadership style adapted to the situation are changes that one may wish to see after a Leadership and Management training course. For the employer, these aspects of learning transfer represent the return on the time and money invested in the training of employees.

If the transfer of learning is therefore a desirable objective for any training project, how can it be measured? How do we do this at Swiss Connect Academy?

Too often, it is assumed that a person will transfer what they’ve learned if they have enjoyed the training and know more at the end than at the beginning. “They enjoyed it and learned something. It will surely have a beneficial effect on the company.” This is a rather simplistic reasoning that is, unfortunately, wrong in most cases. In these situations, it is observed that only a few weeks after the end of the training, individuals are back to old habits, if they had undertaken to make changes in the first place.

So what to do? Research in adult education [1] [2] has looked at this issue in many studies and meta-studies and identified the 5 controllable factors (thus excluding factors that cannot be changed, such as years of prior study) that are most influential in the transfer of learning. The higher these factors are, the more likely it is that sustainable transfer of learning to the work environement will occur.

Here is the list of factors and how we, at Swiss Connect Academy, seek to increase them:

  1. Knowledge: the mastery of the contents and knowledge of the training. To this end, we regularly carry out knowledge tests on our Learning Experience Platform. The use of artificial intelligence makes it possible to ask each learner specific questions according to their level of knowledge and the personal weak points to be developed. These assessments combined with the multiple multimodal learning contents we offer allow us to develop and measure the level of knowledge of our learners.
  2. Feeling of self-efficacy: the learner’s sense of competency and ability to apply what they have learned. To this end, our face-to-face training days include practical exercises with debriefing and feedback, as well as moments of exchange and reflection. The aim of these moments is to increase each learner’s feeling of self-efficacy.
  3. Motivation to transfer: the intensity of the learner’s desire to transfer learning and the efforts the learner is prepared to invest to achieve it. Ideally, learners have an intrinsic motivation to transfer, such as curiosity, the desire to learn or the pleasure of taking on a challenge. In this case, we give our learners tools to plan, evaluate and adjust their transfer of learning. In the absence of intrinsic motivation, we can also intervene on extrinsic motivation, for example by making the benefits of changing their behaviour, to adopt what has been learned, apparent.
  4. Perceived usefulness: the belief that training time is well spent and that what is learned will be useful and enable the learner to do their work better. To increase this factor, we regularly update the learning contents on our Learning Experience Platform, as well as the activities that make up face-to-face training days. The objective is to present our leaners with activities that are close to real-life situations they encounter. The simulation of a conflict to solve, or the addition of scenario-based learnings, interactive scenarios where learners have to take decisions to progress through a story, are examples of such activities.
  5. Perceived support: this factor describes how much support the learner receives from the environment in which they are expected to transfer (in our case, the working environment). Will they be given time to try out what they learned? Will errors or delays at the beginning of the transfer period be accepted? Of the five factors, this is, by far, the one on which a training provider has the least influence. Indeed, we can’t strongly influence how much support a learner will receive from working colleagues and their direct manager. However, we still raise awareness about the importance of this factor and suggest actionable ways for our learners to discuss and implement a transfer strategy with their working environment and, in particular, their manager.

In conclusion, in order to have a return on the time and money invested in a skills development project, it is particularly important that the five transfer-predicting factors mentioned above are included in the concept, design and execution of said project. How to increase the knowledge development of learners? How to increase their feeling of self-efficacy? How to increase their motivation to transfer what they learn? How to make the usefulness of what they will learn more apparent? How to increase the support they receive from their working environment when they will start transferring what they have learned?

Remembering to answer these questions will strongly increase the probability that individuals transfer what they learned and change their behaviour for the better.


[1] Blume, B. D., Ford, J. K., Baldwin, T. T., & Huang, J. L. (2010). Transfer of training: A meta-analytic review. Journal of management, 36(4), 1065-1105.

[2] Lauzier, M., Annabi, D., Mercier, G., & Des Rochers, D. (2016). Mieux prédire le transfert des apprentissages: Mesurer ce qui compte vraiment. Accroître le transfert des apprentissages: Vers de nouvelles connaissances, pratiques et expériences, 341-372.

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