Transferring Learning to Behavior

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This book takes on this age-old challenge, first examining why learned concepts don’t make it into practice, then offering solutions that will work in the real world. Co-author James Kirkpatrick, a training practitioner, introduces five prerequisites that help organizations achieve ultimate training success. He includes practical examples from his own work, plus 12 best-practice case studies.

Why Read Transferring Learning to Behavior?

Today, trainers, training consultants and anyone responsible for the performance of others is saddled with the job not of simply imparting skills, but of improving performance by changing behavior. Here, the Kirkpatricks speak to training specialists, HR managers, group leaders, technical support professionals, small business owners, supervisors, managers and even corporate executives, showing how to bridge the divide between learning and behavior.

Beginning with an overview of the current state of the four levels, the Kirkpatricks examine the reasons for the devastating disconnect between learning and behavior; describe the foundations that must be in place before moving on to confront the true challenge of transferring learning to behavior; and, finally, show precisely how to ensure that there is organizational support, and employee and managerial accountability, for putting the new behaviors into practice.

Twelve best practice case studies from companies such as Toyota, AMN AMRO Bank, Nextel and Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield bring the concepts, principles and techniques to life.

Now more than ever, the pressure is on to demonstrate concrete results from training – but techniques like Return on Investment (ROI) calculations aren’t impressive if it’s obvious that new behaviors aren’t becoming established as business as usual. Transferring Learning to Behavior shows how an already proven model can be applied to solve this most difficult problem and produce concrete results.


Elaine Biech – Author of Business of Consulting and Training for Dummies

“A must-read for every trainer and performance consultant. Chock-full of real-life cases and implement-now ideas, Don and Jim have revisited the basics with a new twist – one you won’t want to miss!”

Excerpt from the book

(From pp. 13-14)

The Challenge Viewed from Other Perspectives

I believe that the more you understand the inner workings of this challenge, the better you will be prepared to attack it. To do that, I will draw verbal illustrations from three gigantic forces in society today–sports, weight loss, and training.

Just this morning, I was watching TV and saw several Detroit Piston basketball players being interviewed for their upcoming NBA championship series against the perennial winners, the Los Angeles Lakers. To a man, their responses to the proverbial question, “What do you have to do to win?” were almost identical. Richard Hamilton summed it up best: “Coach [Larry Brown] is always telling us that we have to play basketball the right way.” Think about it. He didn’t say anything about strategy, learning, motivation, or passion.. He was echoing what every sports personality says, “We need to execute!”

Hamilton was then asked, “How many times does Coach Brown mention that to you?” He laughed and said, “Too many to count–probably thousands!”

(The philosophy must have worked. They disposed of the Lakers 4 games to 1).

Similarly, I once asked one of the coaches of the Indianapolis (football) Colts, “How is your strategy this year?” He replied, “Oh, about as good as everyone else’s.” “Well then, how will you guys win the Super Bowl?” You guessed it–“The teams that execute their strategies will go the farthest.” Put yourself in the coach’s role. (You probably are one at work.) You basically have complete command over strategy, rules, and practices. Once the game starts, however, the final outcome is almost totally up to the players, your employees. The same is true of training–the transfer of learning to behavior.

Let’s also look at the issue of weight loss and diets. I cannot fathom how many different diets, fat-burning pills, fitness machines, and how-to books are on the market guaranteed to help us lose weight. Imagine the amount of money poured into that industry each year. Many years ago, in another career, I led a weight loss group. The plan was three-fold and simple: (1) Eat reasonably (2) Get regular exercise at least three times a week and (3) Drink lots of water. I had about fifteen participants in the group and guess what the majority of each session was spent doing? Encouraging and supporting their positive behaviors. Challenging their excuses and increasing their adherence to the program. They all knew what they needed to do, and they knew it would work if they followed the program. They also knew it would take consistent discipline and effort.

Let’s assume that somehow, everyone who was overweight found a way to understand (Level 2) and implement (Level 3) this three-pronged approach to losing weight. What would the results (Level 4) be? There would be lots of thin people and a huge financial loss to companies that sell diet books, special pills, and special weight loss foods. Why doesn’t it happen?

What We’re Up Against — Resistance to Change

We are up against human nature, which is an extremely powerful force. It is a commonly known fact that people tend to do what is familiar and comfortable, even if it is not effective. That’s it in a nutshell. Hoping people–whether employees, athletes, or would-be weight losers–will voluntarily behave differently is not a reasonable expectation. If we are honest with ourselves and reasonably introspective, I’m sure we can look back at behaviors we continued or relationships we stayed in and wonder why we didn’t change sooner. You may have heard the statement, “People don’t mind changing. They just don’t like to be told to change.” I’m not sure how true that is, but it is another matter to consider when facilitating change.

A second human nature consideration is this: For trainers to get leaders to transfer learning to behavior, and for leaders to get their employees to transfer learning to behavior, a lot of disciplined, consistent effort is needed. Are you as aware as I am of how much society has moved away from that good old-fashioned work ethic? It’s one of the reasons why most diets fail–people don’t have the discipline or patience to consistently exercise and eat properly. I saw a commercial for fat burners the other day. I honestly don’t know if they work or not, but I believe there are more and more products on the market that attempt to connect with our desire to make life easier. Whether or not they will depends on the successful transfer of Level 2 to Level 3.

Additional information


Donald L. Kirkpatrick and James D. Kirkpatrick






Berrett-Koehler Publishers (March 10, 2005)

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