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Improving Learning Transfer: A Guide to Getting More Out of What You Put Into Your Training

In today's constantly changing business environment, capable people are crucial to an organization's success, and developing their capabilities through training, learning and development initiatives is a major investment. While measuring the return on that investment is important, attempts to do so are much less valuable if they are not accompanied by a clear understanding of all of the factors than can affect the application of new skills and knowledge on the job - in other words, a clear understanding of what affects learning transfer. So, if organisations are to remain competitive, and develop the highly skilled people that will contribute to their future performance, improving learning transfer should be a priority.

Cyril Kirwan's book addresses this critical issue at a number of levels. Firstly, it explores what learning transfer actually is (it's about application of learning back at work, as well as maintenance of that learning over time). Secondly, it describes the main factors that affect transfer, in terms of trainee characteristics, training design factors, and work environment characteristics. It also examines how those factors exert their effect, which ones are more important, how they interact with one another, and in doing so constructs a practical learning transfer model for practitioners. The book also describes in some detail what the various factors working for or against learning transfer look like in practice. Finally, using case studies, it points the way towards what can be done before, during and after training to improve the rate of transfer.

This highly practical book will help trainers, development specialists and line managers ensure that their training is about real outcomes and not just inputs.

Dr Cyril Kirwan is an experienced management and organisation development consultant. Before setting up Cyril Kirwan & Associates in 1996 he worked for many years in the airline and financial services sectors. He now designs and delivers interventions in areas such as management development, leadership and change management, learning and coaching for clients in a variety of industries in both private and public sectors. He holds a M.Sc. in Work and Organisational Psychology from Dublin City University, and a Doctorate in Business Administration from Henley Business School. He is a certified management consultant (CMC), a member of the Irish Institute of Training and Development (MIITD), a Chartered Fellow of the Institute of Personnel and Development (CFIPD) and a Visiting Academic Fellow at Henley Business School.
List of Figures vii
List of Tables ix

Introduction 1
- Chapter 1 Learning and Learning Transfer 5
- Chapter 2 Getting the Programme Right 21
- Chapter 3 Bridging the Gap 45
- Chapter 4 Getting the Work Environment Right 67
- Chapter 5 It’s up to You: Making it Happen 89
- Chapter 6 Dealing with Resistance 113
- Chapter 7 Measuring Learning Outcomes 125
- Chapter 8 How to Improve Learning Transfer 149
- Appendix A: Understanding Learning Transfer from a Management
- Development Programme 175
- Index 205

List of Figures

- Figure 1.1 Model of learning transfer from a training/development
- programme 15
- Figure 5.1 Influences on motivation to transfer learning 91
- Figure 5.2 Performance expectancies 94

List of Tables

- Table 1.1 Models of learning transfer 14
- Table 4.1 Studies on learning transfer climate 70
- Table 4.2 Organizational climate influences on learning transfer 71
- Table 4.3 Types of manager, peer and organizational support 82
- Table 7.1 Alpha, beta and gamma change in summary 132
- Table 8.1 A template for a diagnostic interview 155
- Table 8.2 Improving learning transfer 156
'...In this well organised and practical book, learning providers, those charged with organizing training, and managers will all gain an understanding of the role they play in contributing to successful learning transfer. As a provider of learning and development interventions for more than 20 years, it gave me new insights and practical steps to take away. Kirwan brings together up to date research to support sensible recommendations...From doing a training needs analysis to measuring learning outcomes and all steps in-between, this is a handbook that will become a well thumbed reference for those who care about value for money and real workplace learning. '

Mary O'Rafferty, Director, Leadership and Management, Institute of Public Administration, Dublin

'Dr Kirwan candidly challenges the traditional learning and development mindset. His straightforward and well researched techniques will help training and learning departments demonstrate what tangible difference training is making to their organisation. With clear insights into what blocks learning transfer, he also provides pragmatic methods to maximise the return on investment from training and development programmes. This is a book for HR professionals, those responsible for L&D, and CEO's who are more interested in outcomes, than outputs. '

– Hamish Brown, CEO, Concordia International Ltd

'“Sometimes I feel that all those trainings and seminars we send our people to are just a waste of money”, an HR-Manager told me only recently. And to a considerable extent I agree to it. Simply sending people to courses, only because the programme sounds interesting or – worse still – because some competitors go for the same kind of training, makes little sense.

What is needed to have a return on investment into HR is shown in the book Improving Learning Transfer. Cyril Kirwan is a true practitioner and this shows in every line of his work. Thoroughly and systematically he identifies what makes the difference between a catalogue-driven approach of training and a thoroughly outlined HR development strategy, with clearly defined goals and their control.'

– Christoph Hellge, Human Resource Management, Hellge & Siebner
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