Transfer of training

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Transfer of training refers to the gg effect that knowledge or abilities acquired in one area have on problem solving or knowledge acquisition in other areas. Transfer of training is based on the theory of transfer of learning.

D H Holding says that "transfer of training occurs whenever the effects of prior learning influence the performance of a later activity" (Principles of Training -1965) In Training for Performance Morrison, J. (Ed p. 93 )). The degree to which trainees successfully apply in their jobs the skills gained in training situations, is considered "positive transfer of training" (Baldwin & Ford, 1980). An example of this could be that if a person who is skilled in auto mechanics decides to learn aircraft mechanics, they would find much easier than someone with no previous knowledge of mechanics. Transfer of training holds somewhat different meaning in different disciplines of psychology. Holding's definition reflects a cognitive psychology perspective. A cognitive psychologist might be interested in how the semantic similarity of word pairs in one list affects time to learn on a second list (the transfer task). From this perspective, the original learning task and the "later activity" look very much alike.

Baldwin and Ford's definition reflects an Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology perspective. An I/O psychologist might be interested in how trainees' motivation to transfer is related to later job performance. The training domain (e.g., a web-based training program) might be very different from the later "activity" domain (e.g. job performance).


There are three types of transfer of training:

  • Positive Transfer
This is when prior learning or training facilitates acquiring a new skill or reaching the solution to a new problem. In this situation the individual performs better than he would have without the prior training.
  • Negative
This is when prior learning or training hinders acquiring a new skill or reaching the solution to a new problem. In this situation the individual performs worse than that he would have had he not been exposed to the prior training.
  • Zero Transfer
In this situation, past experience or training neither enhances nor hinders acquiring a new skill or reaching the solution of a new problem.


OPM: Training Transfer

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Holton, E. F. III, Bates, R., Seyler, D., & Carvalho, M. (1997) Toward construct validation of a transfer climate instrument. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 8, 95-113.

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Wexley, K. N. & Baldwin, T. T. (1986). Posttraining strategies for facilitating positive transfer: An empirical exploration. Academy of Management Journal, 29, 503-520.