The Three Key Stakeholders for Learning Transfer

Let’s face it – there is a lot of information out there. With a few clicks, taps or keystrokes, you can access an abundance of search results on almost any subject. For the sake of example and in the context of this blog, let’s assume your subject has something to do with measuring the impact of a training program. Perhaps boring by comparison to other topics you could Google, I realize, but I believe it is relevant nonetheless.

When you conduct your search, you will have thousands of references, models and systems at your fingertips in mere seconds.

  • The bad news: Some will be colossal wastes of your time to review
  • The good news: Many will be viable approaches worthy of at least a closer look

Of the applicable options you identify, I would like to make a prediction based on my own investigation over the years: Those approaches will effectively integrate the training transfer focus of the Next-Level Manager (NLM), the Trainee and the Trainer.

Of course, you need top-level support and, of course, there are other dynamics and stakeholders to consider. But, based on foundational contributions that have withstood the test of sustainment-related time (e.g., Kirkpatrick, Brinkerhof, Broad and Newstrom), I would suggest that aligning the roles and contributions of “the three key” stakeholders merits your focused attention.

  • NEXT-LEVEL MANAGER (NLM) – This is the immediate supervisor or manager of the Trainee on the learning journey. The NLM is a living, breathing, easy-to-access representative of top management for the Trainee. Imagine the NLM as a “light switch” of sorts. Assuming the formal learning experience is of high quality, the NLM can almost single-handedly turn on the switch, effectively facilitating application for results that truly matter; or they can turn off the switch, essentially eliminating any reasonable probability the Trainee will practice what is being preached
  • TRAINEEThis is the individual who will engage with the formal learning directly, and then attempt to implement what was learned in a real-world setting for the express purpose of delivering targeted results. If, for whatever reason, the Trainee lacks the motivation to truly make that attempt, effective transfer is doomed. We’ve all been there! Consider a college course you were required to take. You didn’t want to take it; you had to take it. So, what happened? You endured! You went to class. You took the tests and wrote the papers. You studied for and completed the final exam, and you haven’t thought about or even applied what you learned since then. Often lost in the equation of training transfer is the fact that the Trainee must value skill mastery and be willing to practice and receive feedback in a live setting
  • TRAINERThis includes not only the person delivering the live or virtual message of the training, but also all who have played a role in designing and developing the experience. It stands to reason that if the training isn’t both relevant and engaging, the probability of transfer is substantially decreased

So, as is the case with most 500-word commentaries on complicated topics, this seems simple. As we are all aware, it is not. That notwithstanding, I would offer that any successful transfer process you could identify and attempt to replicate in your organization should begin and end with the three key “singing from the same sheet of music.”


  1. Consider a training program your organization offers. On the scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high), assess the transfer-alignment of the NLMs, targeted Trainees and Trainers.
  2. What action could you take to improve the degree of alignment for the offering identified?