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Make Sure Your Training Works

Some important learning research is not at all well known, which is a pity, because it is of great relevance to us trainers.  It's the research by Detterman and Sternberg on the transfer of learning.  They distinguish between near transfer and far transfer.

Near transfer is repeating the behaviour trained in a very similar situation, far transfer is repeating it in a different situation.  An example of near transfer would be learning to sell car insurance by phone, and then using that skill to sell car insurance back on the job.   Examples of far transfer would be teaching generic telephone selling skills and asking people to apply these general skills to the task of selling house insurance.

Detterman and Sternberg say that far transfer just doesn't occur.  To put it another way, any training that teaches general principles and then expects participants to apply them in specific circumstances is wasted - far better they say, to teach the specific skills needed for a specific task.

If they are right, an awful lot of training is wasted.  In fact Detterman and Sternberg's research (which is pretty thorough) suggests that only about 10% of learning on a training course is ever transferred to real jobs.

This is certainly food for thought for anyone in the training business. The book to read is Transfer on Trial: Intelligence, Cognition and Instruction by D.K. Detterman and R.J. Sternberg (1993)


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