Intention to Transfer – Will it Stick?

Many end-of-training evaluations ask participants to respond to a statement like this:  “I plan to (or will be able to) apply this training to my job”.   Have you ever wondered if this is an accurate prediction that the training will stick?  Technically this is referred to as intention to transfer.   

Several research studies have been conducted that compare intent to transfer with actual use of skills on the job.  In each case there was a fairly high connection between intention to transfer and the actual transfer.  But —

  1. Don’t people often tell us what we want to hear (or what they think we want to hear)?

  2. How many people have kept their new year’s resolutions?  (How many of us remember what they were?)

  3. Aren’t people’s perceptions of their own behavior often different from what other people see?

The answer is yes, people often tell us what they think we want to hear but this “socially desirable response” (SDR) bias has really only been studied on personal habits such as healthy food choices and substance abuse.  There is no evidence that SDR plays a part in assessing workplace learning or intention to use it.  Yes, people’s perceptions of their own behavior are sometimes different from what others see, but just because learning doesn’t show up in observable behavior doesn’t mean it hasn’t stuck, particularly with leadership and soft skills training where behavior changes may be subtle, and observed only by one or two individuals.

So – is it useful at the end of the class to ask your trainees how they intend to use what they have just learned in training?  Definitely.  While a few people may not accurately indicate what they intend to do to apply what they have learned, multiple research studies have found that for the majority of trainees, particularly in soft skills training, those who report their intention to transfer specific skills, actually do it. 

In addition to asking about intent to use in end-of-class evaluations, here are some more ideas:

  1. Incorporate it with an action planning activity.  (See this prior Sticky Note for a closer look at action planning and Making Training Stick®).  Have participants develop their action plan, then a reflection activity on intent to do it.

  2. Email participants 2-3 weeks after training and ask: “What have you done as a consequence of the training?”  and “….if you have not started yet, what do you intend to do?”  Note:  In one study, the trainer sent the follow-up email to each participant’s managing director, who then sent out the email.  They got a very high response rate.

  3. Repeat the above email 6 weeks–3 months post-training.  Ask the same questions and compare the responses.

  4. Large number of trainees?  Develop a short questionnaire with multiple choice responses – no more than 5-8 questions.  Each question would be a key learning point from the training, with response choices 1-5, and would have two parts:  to what extent are you using this skill/learning point?  If you haven’t use it yet, to what extent do you intend to use it?

  5. If it’s not possible to “boil down” to 5-8 specific questions, send more than one questionnaire.  Just because the learning content is grouped into one learning event doesn’t mean the feedback and evaluation on it has to be.

Remember, when trainees tell you they intend to transfer what they have learned, they usually do it.  That’s pretty cool!

Until next time…

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