selling up, selling down

Train, Transfer, Sustain
Moving past the training event By Bob Mosher
Bob Mosher

Bob Mosher is a senior partner and chief learning evangelist for APPLY Synergies, a strategic consulting firm.


ou’ve trained them. Now what? They go back to their desks, immediately apply what they learned and voila — they achieve increased performance.

Not quite. There’s more to it than just the training event. In fact, there are two additional phases in the learning ecosystem that must be addressed to support those we serve in successfully performing on the job. Beyond the “training,” the true challenge is to transfer what’s been learned and to sustain, even grow, that knowledge over the span of a career. It starts by thinking of your learners as performers and of our job as supporting their entire learning journey, with the overall goal being competency, not mastery.

Overriding old skill sets with new skill sets is the greatest learning challenge.

To become competent in our ever-evolving business landscape, performers must clearly master skills, and you have to train people up to that point of mastery. You definitely do not want a pilot flying a plane without first mastering the concepts of lift. One of the challenges in the journey to mastery is that learners achieve a level of mastery at different rates. So, in any given event, in any given period of time, you have a range of mastery levels. Then, within this range, we also have the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve. This is where performers, once back to work, begin to forget, at a very rapid rate, whatever it is they have mastered and learned in their event-based experience.

So how does one ever get to competency? It’s one thing to master something; it’s another to be competent at it. When I was an undergrad I received an A in accounting, but trust me, there was no way I was prepared to do your taxes. This stage is the most difficult, and it’s crucial as it’s where all the different pieces that are mastered integrate in the context of work to form an applicable whole. And they are integrated through our experience as we apply what’s mastered to our job, all while adjusting and adapting.

The transfer stage is often a herculean challenge for performers as they refer back to the training event and try to make sense of everything they either practiced in class or learned through real-life scenarios, hands-on labs that simulated workflow, etc. The problem is that at the end of the day these training strategies are all still practice scenarios — not actual workflow. To further complicate things, not every performer’s workflow is the same as the next, and a workflow today is different than it may be tomorrow. The journey of taking whatever is mastered, integrating it into one’s existing skill set, and becoming competent, more skilled, more able to do what is needed to do on the job, is no small feat.

And of course, what is current now may not be current even an hour from now. So, it’s not only how a performer transfers to competency, but how they remain competent. To become a better performer over time, one must be supported through the sustain stage. When we do things over and over again, we master them, we become competent. Then it changes. Overriding old skill sets with new skill sets is the greatest learning challenge there is.

The need for train, transfer and sustain has been around forever. Performers have always had to leave a training event and journey on their own with their newfound skills and knowledge. But we haven’t, and aren’t, giving people the tools to truly navigate the transfer and sustain stages, and this needs to change.

It fundamentally starts by shifting our mindset from one of designing training ahead of all else, to focusing first on the stages of transfer and sustain, and building learning and support solutions to support people when in the workflow. Then these deliverables go with them after the training event as critical tools available during transfer and sustain. We can intentionally make a difference during these critical stages, and it changes everything. It brings greater efficiency to every part of train, transfer and sustain.

The journey’s destination is competency, not what they can remember or master. When we focus first on transfer and sustain, the training stage takes on a whole new look and feel. Its footprint is often reduced by up to half, and it’s allowed to focus only on the critical skills needed to be mastered before entering the volatile world of the workflow. If we step back and understand the entire journey our performers are on, it fundamentally changes our approach to what we design and deliver in powerful and transformational ways.