It is widely acknowledged that improving the quality of teaching and leadership are two of the key levers for improving educational outcomes (Hattie, 2003; Leithwood et al., 2019). The provision of high-quality professional development is vital to that mission and should be seen as a key driver not only of staff development but also of recruitment, retention and wellbeing (DfE, 2016). But many of our CPD efforts still fail to break through the thresholds of knowledge and understanding and into long-term behavioural change, with CPD initiatives leaving participants knowing more but not changing their practice. So how can we transfer more of the knowledge, understanding and skills that come from professional development into tangible changes in practice? I suggest that looking beyond educational research, into wider research on the transfer of training, may lend some insight.
The transfer of training
The degree to which individuals effectively apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes gained in training to the job has been termed the ‘transfer of training’ (Wexley and Latham, 1981). Research into the transfer of training in non-education settings has suggested that the majority of training does not transfer into demonstrable improvements in work performance (Grossman and Salas, 2011).
A number of challenges have been raised around measuring training transfer, including how and when to effectively measure training transfer and the generalisability of results from studies. There is also limited literature from within the educational domain specifically. However, common to much of the research about transfer of training (Burke and Hutchins, 2007; Grossman and Salas, 2011; Blume et al., 2019) is the notion that there are factors that precede, exist within and follow training that impact on its effectiveness.
It is widely suggested that a variety of learner attributes play a powerful role in the transfer process (Burke and Hutchins, 2007). Readiness for training, including elements such as prior knowledge, skill and aptitude, has been shown to be a strong predictor of transfer outcomes. Perceptions of ability contribute to self-efficacy, which in turn affects confidence to learn. Motivation emerges as another significant contributor to the transfer process, as it directs levels of intensity, direction and persistence (Blume et al., 2010). The final characteristic is the learner’s perceived utility of training. Learning and retention is rarely successful without first attaching value to the content and seeing a use for it.
Key questions for learners:
- Do you have the required knowledge and skills to access the training?
- How confident are you that you can successfully access and transfer the training?
- What is your motivation for completing the training?
- How will you sustain motivation so that training is applied and maintained?
- Are you clear about the use and impact of the training?
Training that is purposefully designed and expertly delivered has a dramatic impact on the success of training transfer. Studies have shown content relevance to be important to the transfer process, with successful training accurately replicating behaviours, challenges and scenarios. The effective use of learning principles such as direct instruction, modelling, practice and feedback has particular importance in successful training delivery (Grossman and Salas, 2011). The use of error management activities during training supports transfer by enabling individuals to anticipate what can go wrong and providing them with problem-solving strategies. Finally, trainer characteristics such as their professional expertise have also been shown to impact directly on levels of learning and retention (Burke and Hutchins, 2007).
Key questions for CPD designers:
- Who should be involved in the training design?
- Have we included all of the required content and ensured its relevance?
- Do the planned activities accurately replicate job requirements and scenarios?
- How are we leveraging learning principles during training design?
- How are we preparing individuals to deal with expected challenges?
An often-underestimated element of training transfer is the individual’s work environment. The transfer culture of an organisation has an impact through normative messages around expectations, recognition and remediation of training outputs (Grossman and Salas, 2011). Support from both managers and peers has been shown to influence the process, through encouragement, goal-setting and feedback. Organisations also need to provide individuals with opportunities to practise and perform. These opportunities should be sufficiently resourced (time, equipment, people) and occur with minimal delay after training completion. The final factor in successful transfer is post-training follow-up, where outcomes are reflected on and transfer is evaluated. The use of job aids such as manuals, scripts and checklists, as well as coaching, has also been shown to support transfer.
Key questions for school leaders:
- Does our culture expect and support the transfer of training?
- How will we track, measure and evaluate training transfer?
- How will we support individuals after they have completed training?
- Are there opportunities for individuals to practise and perform what they have learned?
- What additional resources can be provided to support application and maintenance?
So what does successful training transfer look like? Our hypothetical learner is ready for this particular piece of training. They are confident in their ability to complete it and transfer the new knowledge, understanding and skills to the workplace. They understand the importance and usefulness of the training, and motivation levels are high. The training has been intelligently designed to ensure that the content is relevant, and the activities authentically match real-life scenarios. The trainer has high levels of credibility, due to their role, subject expertise and understanding of the learning process. Training activities leverage learning principles by appropriately balancing instruction, modelling, practice and feedback.
After the training, our individual returns to their workplace, where it is a cultural norm to now put their learning into practice. Their completion of training is recognised by managers and peers and they are provided with explicit opportunities to reflect on, share and practise their learning. Systems are put in place to monitor the success of the transfer and job aids are available for further support. Practice, reflection and feedback continue until successful training transfer has occurred and learning has evolved into sustained changes in behaviour and performance.
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Blume B, Ford KJ, Surface E et al. (2019) A dynamic model of training transfer. Human Resource Management Review 29(2): 270–283.
Blume B, Ford KJ, Baldwin T et al. (2010) Transfer of training: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Management 39: 1065–1105.
Burke L and Hutchins H (2007) Training transfer: An integrative literature review. Human Resource Development Review 6: 263–296.
Department for Education (DfE) (2016) Standard for teachers’ professional development. Available at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/standard-for-teachers-professional-development (accessed 6 March 2020).
Grossman R and Salas E (2011) The transfer of training: What really matters. International Journal of Training and Development 15(2): 103–120.
Hattie J (2003) Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? In: Building teacher quality: What does the research tell us? ACER Research Conference, Melbourne, Australia, October 2003. Available at: research.acer.edu.au/research_conference_2003/4 (accessed 6 March 2020).
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