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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Transfer of training
  5. Motivation to transfer
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Conclusion and discussion
  9. References

The transfer of training to the workplace often fails to occur. The authors argue that feedback generated within the work environment about the application of newly learned skills in the workplace helps to close the gap between the current performance and the desired goal of full application of what is learned during training. This study takes a social network perspective and explores the role of feedback generated within the social network in fostering motivation-to-transfer and the transfer of training. The results show that the number of people providing feedback and the helpfulness of this feedback are positively related to the motivation for and actual transfer of training. The frequency of feedback appears to be negatively related. This study underlines the importance of feedback in turning the workplace into a learning environment fostering the transfer of training. It also suggests the value of adopting a social network perspective.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Transfer of training
  5. Motivation to transfer
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Conclusion and discussion
  9. References

Rapid advancements in knowledge and technology require professionals to develop themselves continually. As organizations try to improve their performance, investments are made to increase the performance of employees through professional development (Cromwell & Kolb, 2004). Training is among the means to support this professional development. Although a large amount of money is spent on training, it is estimated that only 10–20 percent from what is learned during the training is applied in the workplace (Kirwan & Birchall, 2006). For training to be beneficiary, individuals participating in this training need to take new knowledge back to the workplace and apply what they have learned (Hatala & Fleming, 2007; Wang & Wilcox, 2006). This effective and continuing application of the knowledge and skills gained by trainees to their jobs is known as transfer of training (Broad & Newstrom, 1992; Kirwan & Birchall, 2006). Yet, research indicates that this transfer to the workplace is confronted with many challenges (Burke & Hutchins, 2007; Curry et al., 1994; Kirwan & Birchall, 2006).

Within the different factors discerned as influencing the transfer process, support provided by the organizational environment has been found to be a main indicator for transfer of training (Holton et al., 2003). Although the crucial role of support is stressed, the specific role of feedback received minor attention in the transfer of training research. This paper argues that, particularly, the feedback that is provided by the environment on the application of newly learned skills in the workplace helps to close the gap between the current performance and the desired goal of full application of what is learned during the training. To gain insight into the patterns of feedback within the participants' social network, this paper takes a social network perspective (Hatala & Fleming, 2007). This perspective focuses on the interpersonal mechanisms and the social structures that exist among people within an organization (Wasserman & Faust, 1994). In this way, it becomes possible to unravel the social structure from a feedback perspective that may lead to successful transfer. Moreover, motivation to transfer is described as mediating the effect of the patterns of feedback on the degree of transfer of training. Motivation to transfer refers to the direction, intensity and persistence of effort to apply in the workplace what is learned during the training (Holton et al., 2003).

Therefore, the question guiding this research is: What is the role of feedback generated within the social network in creating motivation to transfer and fostering transfer of training? In answering this question, this study combines and builds on the literature in training transfer research, feedback and social network studies. Hereby, it contributes to our understanding of training transfer and the effect of feedback within the social network.

The literature review below will elaborate on the crucial role of social support in transfer of training. Subsequently, it will show how looking into feedback within the social network can add to our understanding of the role of social support. Finally, the mediating role of motivation to transfer will be argued upon.

Transfer of training

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Transfer of training
  5. Motivation to transfer
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Conclusion and discussion
  9. References

During the past 20 years, many researchers have tried finding an answer to the challenges transfer of training poses. Pivotal review studies are the following: Baldwin and Ford (1988), Cheng and Ho (2001), Holton et al. (2000), Colquitt et al. (2000) and Cheng and Hampson (2008). Most of these review studies proposed groups of variables influencing transfer of training.

Baldwin and Ford (1988) discerned three groups of variables influencing transfer of training: trainee characteristics, training design and work environment. Cheng and Ho (2001) focus on motivation as an influential variable, beside trainee characteristics and work environment. Holton et al. (2000) added ability as a separate variable beside these three variables. It is clear that the three aforementioned studies all referred to the work environment as a powerful factor in the transfer of training process.

Work environment has often been referred to as the transfer climate or those work environment factors perceived by trainees to encourage or discourage their use of knowledge, skills and abilities learned in training and on the job (Cromwell & Kolb, 2004). Research has identified features of a positive transfer climate, such as adequate resources, cues to remind trainees what they have learned, opportunities to use new skills, timely feedback and positive consequences for using new training (Rouiller & Goldstein, 1993; Tracey et al., 1995). Overall, in his review, Clarke (2002) states that the two key factors of the construct transfer climate suggested to influence the use of training on the job are opportunity to use and social support.

The social support factors have become increasingly the focus of attention within the research on transfer climate. These factors are established to function as a major feature in the transfer climate. Several researchers have recently ascertained the vital and imperative role supervisor support and peer support, in particular, take in the training transfer process (Chiaburu & Marinova, 2005; Lim & Morris, 2006; Nijman et al., 2006; Russ-Eft, 2002). As advocated by Tannenbaum and Yukl (1992), understanding why and how this social support contributes to the transfer of training will provide great value for the research on training effectiveness in general. Therefore, this study focuses on processes that can explain the power of social support for transfer of training.

Social support

Several researches have recognized the importance of support factors in training transfer and have consistently been linking peer and supervisor support to successful transfer (Cromwell & Kolb, 2004; Lim & Morris, 2006; Nijman et al., 2006). The distinction in social support between peers and supervisors has been made to illustrate the different tasks these groups have in providing support (Chiaburu & Marinova, 2005). According to Russ-Eft (2002), on the one hand, peer support focuses predominantly on supporting the use of learning on the job. On the other hand, supervisor support has the critical task of providing reinforcement for learning on the job. Factors argued to affect transfer of training through social peer support include setting learning goals, giving assistance or offering positive feedback. For supervisors, Baldwin et al. (2000) state that their support requires much more active participation, and, therefore, includes not only setting learning goals and providing feedback, but also modeling trainee behavior, discussing the training content and providing opportunities for use (Hawley & Barnard, 2005; Nijman et al., 2006).

Research focusing on the role of supervisor support shows mixed results. In their review, Cheng and Hampson (2008) show that ‘despite the evidence pertaining to the predictive power of social support on transfer behavior, non-significant (or even negative) relationships between a supportive environment and transfer outcome have also been found’ (pp. 334–335).

For peer support, the results are more cohesive. Although less attention has been devoted to this form of support, the results from research show consistent results on the positive impact of peer support on training transfer (Facteau et al., 1995; Hawley & Barnard, 2005).

One of the specific factors identified in the literature that acts as a support mechanism for both peers and supervisors is feedback. By taking an in-depth look at how feedback is related to the transfer of training, this study contributes to the current transfer of training literature. Therefore, we combine two strands of research: previous studies on transfer of training and research on feedback. By combining both these lines of research, enhanced insight is created into improving training effectiveness. Moreover, in order to analyse the feedback given in the work environment, we use social network analysis.

Feedback within the work-related network

First, we will turn to the literature on feedback to elaborate the important aspects of feedback. Next, we describe how a social network perspective can enhance the understanding of the role of feedback in transfer of training.

Feedback

The value of feedback in supporting learning and motivation to learn has been widely accepted (Annett, 1969; Ashford & Cummings, 1985; Herold & Greller, 1977; Ilgen et al., 1979). Major dimensions identified in feedback studies are helpfulness, sign, frequency and source of the feedback (Becker & Klimoski, 1989). With regard to helpfulness, Kluger and DeNisi (1996) proposed the feedback intervention theory (FIT) explaining the effectiveness of feedback or ‘how helpful is feedback for the learner?’ The theory states that when we notice a gap between feedback and our goal, we strive to reduce the gap. According to DeNisi and Kluger (2000), the effectiveness of feedback and the mechanism of feedback center around the attention created at the appropriate level. Feedback on the task motivation level (i.e. related to the actual performance) or feedback at the task learning level (i.e. related to the details of performing the task) in combination with the proper information as to how to improve will provide for the necessary behavioral change and, thereby, increase performance. In relating this FIT more specifically to transfer of training, the notion holds that feedback provided on the application of newly learned knowledge and skills in the workplace is helpful when it supports a trainee in closing the gap between the current performance and the desired goal of full application. In this study, we address the feedback given on the application of newly gained knowledge and skills by analysing how helpful the feedback is for the trainee.

The sign of feedback can be categorized as either positive, indicating the appraisal of satisfactory behavior, or negative, indicating undesirable behavior. DeNisi and Kluger (2000) state in their review that feedback sign is not a moderator of feedback effectiveness.

The frequency of feedback refers to how much and how often feedback is given (Becker & Klimoski, 1989). According to research, the general wisdom ‘the more the better’ does not apply to feedback, and caution must be taken in increasing feedback. Especially when the feedback message is complex and when individuals may have difficulties interpreting the feedback, this increase may have an adverse effect (Ilgen et al., 1979). Russ-Eft (2002) also points out that more feedback is not necessarily better. Research on motor learning, for example, has shown that those who receive feedback after every attempt during training tend to perform more poorly on subsequent tests of retention than do those receiving less frequent feedback (e.g. Schmidt, 1991).

Finally, the source of feedback is studied within the feedback literature. In this respect, an interesting field of research is that of multirater or multisource feedback. It is argued that by involving multiple sources of feedback, the information received is much richer and, therefore, more informative for behavioral change. The review study of Smither et al. (2005) evidenced small but significant effects of receiving feedback from multiple raters on performance improvement. In addition, it is questioned if the source of feedback makes a difference in the reaction to the multirater feedback (performance improvement, undertaking developmental activities). In general, there are five sources of feedback that can be categorized in three distinct sets. First, there are the other individuals who have been able to observe the recipient's behavior and can evaluate it. Most frequently cited in this category are peers, coworkers and supervisors. Second, there is the task itself and the task environment as a source of feedback. Third, individuals are also able to judge themselves and act as a source of feedback (Herold & Greller, 1977). The importance of the source of feedback can be linked back to social support provided by the work environment in the training transfer process in general. Where the peers and supervisors are an important source of support in the work environment, they are more specifically an important source in the provision of feedback. In this respect, an interesting study is conducted by Maurer et al. (2002, p. 88), who state that ‘one might logically believe that the order of importance of feedback source to those being rated would reflect the traditional hierarchy of power. Ratings from one's supervisors should be more important than those of one's peers. In turn, ratings from one's peers should be more important than those of one's subordinates’. However, the results of their study using multirater feedback for developmental purposes indicated that peer feedback has more effect on the developmental activities undertaken than supervisor feedback.

Analysing feedback: a social network perspective

This study will take a social network perspective on the feedback support that is provided in the work environment in order to get a more fine-grained insight in feedback as a support-mechanism for transfer of training. A social network can be defined as ‘a group of collaborating (and/or competing) entities that are related to each other’ (Hakansson et al., 1999). The theory behind social networks focuses on explaining the interpersonal mechanisms and the social structures that exist among interacting units such as people within an organization (Hatala & Fleming, 2007; Wasserman & Faust, 1994). Social network analysis provides a methodology aimed at analysing a participant's organizational network relationships to map the interaction and the relationships between actors in the network, and uncovers the specific dynamics that exist in a group (Hatala & Fleming, 2007).

Both Hatala and Fleming (2007) and Hawley and Barnard (2005) have called for the investigation of social networks as a perspective to build an in-depth understanding of how social support aids in transfer of training. Hatala (2006) and Hatala and Fleming (2007) argued for taking a social network perspective within the field of human resource development (HRD) and, more specifically, to the transfer of training; looking at the social network in an organization helps to explain the impact the relationships within the work environment have on training transfer. For this reason, we also talk of the ‘work-related network’ as we focus on the relationships within the work environment. Also, Hawley and Barnard (2005) advocated the value of a social network perspective in understanding transfer of training. In their study, they concluded that seeing peers from a specific training program as a possible network could explain some of the findings. The social network perspective taken in this study provides, therefore, unique glasses through which to understand the role of feedback within transfer of training.

In sum, the present study addresses the role of feedback in the transfer of training by using the insights from social network theory. It does so by examining four features of feedback, the amount of sources of feedback, source type (peer and supervisor), helpfulness and frequency of the feedback, as a specific mechanism of social support, provided within the social network. The results from previous studies described above lead to the following general research question: To what extent does feedback generated within the social network have a positive effect on transfer of training?

As indicated, the influence of feedback depends on the source of the feedback, the frequency of the feedback (Becker & Klimoski, 1989) and the helpfulness of the feedback (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996). This leads to the following four hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: Peer feedback will have a more positive effect on transfer of training than supervisor feedback (source of feedback).

Hypothesis 2: The amount of ties or feedback sources within the social network of the trainee will have a positive effect on the transfer of training.

Hypothesis 3: When feedback is perceived by the trainee as helpful, it will have a positive effect on transfer of training.

Hypothesis 4: Frequent feedback will have a positive effect on transfer of training.

Motivation to transfer

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Transfer of training
  5. Motivation to transfer
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Conclusion and discussion
  9. References

Motivation to transfer learning is one of the key concepts in the HRD literature (Egan et al., 2004). As transfer of training encompasses the degree to which trainees apply their knowledge, skills and attributes gained from the training, motivation to transfer has been described as the intended effort to utilize these knowledge, skills and attributes (Seyler et al., 1998). More specifically, this study focuses on post-training motivation to transfer, which is the desire to actually apply what has been learned (Naquin & Holton, 2003). Trainees' motivation to transfer is a key variable in determining the level of transfer of training because in order to transfer newly learned knowledge and skills to the workplace, trainees first must also be committed to using what they have learned (Axtell et al., 1997). In other words, the chances of skill use after learning can be greatly reduced if motivation to do so is low (e.g. Noe & Schmitt, 1986). A few previous studies have assessed the relation between motivation to transfer and the actual transfer of training. Mathieu et al. (1992), for example, concluded that motivation to transfer was positively related to learning the training content, which was measured by testing the actual application of this training content. Axtell et al. (1997) performed a longitudinal study in which they identified motivation to transfer as a significant predictor of transfer of training.

These results are confirmed in the recent study of Liebermann and Hoffmann (2008). These authors have studied the relation between transfer motivation and transfer of training in a German bank, 3 months after attending a training program aimed at improving service quality. The results show a positive relation between transfer motivation and transfer of training contents to the job. However, as Gegenfurtner et al. (2009) claim, there is still very little research that has addressed the relation between motivation to transfer and transfer of training.

Moreover, research has identified some factors influencing motivation in the post-training phase. Seyler et al. (1998) concluded that opportunity to use, and peer and supervisor support have the greatest influence on post-training motivation. In addition, Kirwan and Birchall (2006) found that in terms of work environment factors, the amount of peer support received, as well as the amount of feedback and coaching received, was positively related to motivation to transfer.

These results indicate that the supportive social network of peers and supervisors providing feedback is also related to an individual's motivation to transfer. The literature on feedback underlines this notion by mentioning and confirming the influence of feedback in general on motivation (Ilgen et al., 1979). Feedback provides information allowing a comparison of current and desired behavior. This comparison motivates the person to invest further efforts to change his or her behavior (Russ-Eft, 2002).

Therefore, the following hypothesis can be stated:

Hypothesis 5: Post-training motivation to transfer has a positive effect on transfer of training, and partially mediates the relation between feedback from the work-related social network and transfer of training.

Method

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Transfer of training
  5. Motivation to transfer
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Conclusion and discussion
  9. References

Context and participants

The participants in this study were 35 academic staff members working in a faculty in the Netherlands in which the learning environment was designed following the principles of problem-based learning (PBL; Dochy et al., 2003). They followed a 2-day training regarding the role of the tutor (i.e. the teacher) in this PBL environment. This training is mandatory for all employees who want to work as a tutor at this faculty. PBL is an education method that emphasizes learning in small groups and that focuses on discussion and problem solving among students as the main instructional approach. The following seven main aspects of tutoring were dealt with: didactical backgrounds and characteristics of PBL, student learning and analysing problems with the 7-jump (a systematic approach of problem solving), the role of the tutor in PBL, how to deal with critical incidents in a tutorial, how to organize the first meeting and set ground rules, how to work with the electronic learning environment and how to give constructive feedback. In the end, the training was closed by evaluating a taped tutorial by the trainer and the trainee individually.

Selection criteria for trainees to be eligible for the present study were twofold. First, in order to still have good memory and recollection of the training content, only those who had participated in the training between April 2007 and January 2008 were invited to participate (study was conducted in May 2008). Second, as this study concentrates on transfer of training, trainees must have had the opportunity to actually work as a tutor. Without the experience to apply the training content, participants were excluded from the research population. In total, a number of 42 employees met these criteria and were invited to participate. Out of this population of 42, 35 completed the questionnaire successfully, resulting in a response rate of 83 percent. Out of the 35 participants, 19 were male and 16 were female (for further descriptives, see Table 1).

Table 1. Descriptives
VariablenMeanSDNotes
  1. SD = standard deviation.

Age351.890.9631 = 18–25 years; 2 = 16–30 years; 3 = 31–35 years; 4 = 36–40 years; 5 = 41–50 years; 6 = 50+ years
Gender35  46% are female (1 = male; 2 = female)
Number of trainings351.171.36 
Motivation to transfer353.630.770 
Transfer of training31509.73Maximum = 70
Source32  69% has supervisor in network
Number of ties353.972.62 
Average frequency332.540.871 
Average helpfulness334.250.675 

Measures

The different constructs in the theoretical framework were operationalized through existing and validated instruments measuring the constructs as defined.

Transfer of training

The degree of transfer of training was measured following the Lim and Morris (2006) approach. This means we adapted the perception survey of learning (PSL) to assess the trainees' perceived degree of understanding (scale 1) as well as application in the workplace (scale 2) before and after the training program. The trainees were asked to indicate their opinion with respect to statements referring to the trainees' perceived degree of understanding and application of the seven learning objectives of the training program. The list of learning objectives was constructed in cooperation with the designer of the training. By asking participants about their understanding and application of the learning objectives before and after the training, we were able to rate the increase or decrease in understanding and application of the skills aimed for during the training. For each topic, participants were presented with a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from ‘nothing at all’ to ‘a lot’ to indicate how much more they knew and applied that same topic since they had followed the training. To calculate the final dependent variable, perceived transfer of training, the scales' total gain in knowledge and total gain in application were summed.

The scale regarding the transfer of knowledge showed an alpha of 0.75. The second scale regarding the transfer of application measured an alpha of 0.83. In calculating the total transfer of training, these two scales were added, resulting in an alpha of 0.86 for total perceived transfer of training. Furthermore, the correlation between transfer of knowledge and transfer of training was calculated and showed to be 0.76, with a p-value of 0.01. These results indicate that total transfer of training can be calculated from the two subscales and can be used as a reliable measure.

Motivation to transfer

Post-training motivation to transfer was measured using the 4-item scale of Nijman (2004). Those items related to post-training motivation to transfer were selected from the instrument of Nijman (2004). Participants were asked to rate four statements regarding their motivation to transfer on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from ‘totally disagree’ to ‘totally agree’. These were cross-translated. The Cronbach's alpha of this scale is 0.89.

Feedback within the social network

Social network analysis, more specifically the egocentric technique, was used (Wasserman & Faust, 1994). This technique determines the personal network of the participants and enabled to identify the supportive ties to colleagues in the direct work environment. Specifically, the participants were asked to report (1) the people in their social network that provide them with feedback regarding the issues that were covered in the training, and (2) whether or not these people are their peers or supervisor. Based on these data, for each participant, the number of ties was calculated, with peers as well as supervisor(s) as sources of feedback.

Additionally, the participants were asked to indicate for each tie (1) how frequent the feedback was provided, and (2) the perceived helpfulness of the feedback. Participants were asked to indicate the contact frequency with each tie. On a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from ‘once’ to ‘more than 10 times’, contact frequency could be rated. Also, respondents were asked to rate the helpfulness of the feedback provided by the ties. Again, a 5-point Likert scale was used, ranging from ‘did not help’ to ‘helped very much’. Based on these data, the average frequency and the average helpfulness of the feedback coming from the participants' network were computed.

Control variables

The analysis controlled for age, gender and number of trainings previously followed. This concerns training programs in other domains than PBL, as not one participant had followed such a training.

Table 1 presents the descriptives of the different variables included in this research.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Transfer of training
  5. Motivation to transfer
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Conclusion and discussion
  9. References

Hierarchical regression was conducted, which enables us to control first for the variables age, gender and number of trainings. A stepwise approach is chosen, using a 0.10 probability level of F. Table 2 presents the correlations between the variables included in this research.

Table 2. Correlations
 AgeGenderNumber of trainingsMotivationTransfer of trainingSourceNumber of tiesAverage frequency
  • * 

    Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (two-tailed).

  • ** 

    Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (two-tailed).

Age        
Gender0.110       
Number of trainings0.240−0.117      
Motivation0.099−0.0590.081     
Transfer of training0.264−0.0900.385*0.486**    
Source0.166−0.0420.0900.218−0.017   
Number of ties0.3140.099−0.0230.2600.0810.350*  
Average frequency0.0230.047−0.032−0.011−0.413*0.3360.455** 
Average helpfulness0.149−0.1020.455**0.400*0.377*0.1470.1520.187

The correlation coefficients indicate that transfer of training is related to the perceived helpfulness of the feedback in the social network. The frequency of feedback is, as hypothesized, negatively related to the transfer of training. Furthermore, the transfer of training is significantly related to the trainees' motivation to transfer, which in turn is related to the perceived helpfulness of the feedback. The source of feedback is not related to the transfer of training nor the motivation to transfer.

To test the hypothesis that feedback within the social network affects transfer of training, and that this effect is mediated by post-training motivation to transfer, three regression analyses were estimated.

First, it was tested if aspects of the feedback-related social network predict post-training motivation. Second, it was analysed if the feedback-related social network predicts transfer of training. Finally, it was analysed if motivation mediated the relation between aspects of the feedback-related social network and transfer of training. Hereto, the contribution of aspects of the feedback-related social network should drop (for partial mediation) or become insignificant (for full mediation) when entered into the model together with post-training motivation to transfer (Baron & Kenny, 1986). The results of these estimates are presented in Table 3.

Table 3. Hierarchical regression analyses
Dependent variableMotivation to transferTransfer of trainingTransfer of training
  • Note: Standardized coefficients are reported.

  • * 

    Coefficient is significant at the 0.10 level (two-tailed).

  • ** 

    Coefficient is significant at the 0.05 level (two-tailed).

Age   
Gender   
Number of trainings 0.215 
Source   
Number of ties 0.312*0.217
Average frequency −0.613**−0.543**
Average helpfulness0.400**0.346**0.193
Motivation to transfer  0.337**
R20.1600.4910.577

The analysis shows that characteristics of the feedback-related social network influence the post-training motivation to transfer. More specifically, it shows that the average helpfulness of the feedback provided in the network is linked to the degree of transfer of training (beta = 0.40, p = 0.023).

Next, the analysis indicates that characteristics of the feedback-related social network influence the transfer of training (hypothesis 1 to hypothesis 4). The amount of people providing feedback (beta = 0.31, p = 0.076), the average frequency (beta = −0.61, p = 0.001) and the average helpfulness (beta = 0.35, p = 0.057) of this feedback are related to the degree of transfer of training.

Moreover, motivation to transfer is significantly related to the degree of transfer of training (beta = 0.46, p = 0.006). If motivation to transfer is added to the regression of the network variables on transfer of training, both the variables' number of ties and average helpfulness show to be no longer predicting transfer of training. This suggests that motivation to transfer, at least partially, mediates the effect aspects of the feedback-related social network on transfer of training (hypothesis 5). As motivation is strongly related to average helpfulness (r = 0.40, p < 0.05), this mediation is most prominent for the average helpfulness of the feedback provided within the network.

Conclusion and discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Transfer of training
  5. Motivation to transfer
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Conclusion and discussion
  9. References

This research questioned the role of feedback generated within the social network in creating motivation-to-transfer and fostering transfer of training. The results of this study indicate that hypothesis 1 (Peer feedback will have a more positive effect on transfer of training than supervisor feedback) is not confirmed. The fact that a supervisor is part (or not) of the feedback-related social network does not influence the transfer of training Hypothesis 2 (the number of ties or feedback sources within the social network of the trainee will have a positive effect on the transfer of training) and hypothesis 3 (when feedback is perceived by the trainee as helpful, it will have a positive effect on transfer of training) are accepted. Hypothesis 4 referring to the positive effect of frequent feedback is not confirmed. Our results indicate that more frequent feedback results in less transfer of training. Finally, the fifth hypothesis on the mediating role of motivation to transfer is accepted.

The findings with regard to number of feedback sources and average helpfulness are in line with the expectations. The positive effect of experiencing the provided feedback as helpful shows that not all feedback has an equal effect on transfer of training. The helpfulness of the feedback as experienced by the trainee plays a crucial role; how ‘appropriate’ is the feedback as experienced by the trainee? This can be framed within the theory of Kluger and DeNisi (1996), pointing out that feedback on the task motivation level or at the task learning level in combination with the proper information as to how to improve will provide for behavioral change. The effect of these aspects of the feedback-related network is partially mediated by an increased motivation, showing that a supportive network provides not only the right information, but also the drive to implement the behavioral changes that are needed.

When the feedback literature is referring to the frequency of feedback, this refers to how much and how often feedback is given (Becker & Klimoski, 1989). The social network perspective taken in the current research presented makes it possible to disentangle two different aspects: on the one hand, the number of ties, from how many different people does someone receive feedback, and on the other hand, the frequency, which in this case refers to how often one does receive feedback from a particular person in his/her network. The results confirm that this separation between number of ties and frequency is valuable to further insight in the impact of increased feedback. The analyses showed that the amount of people providing feedback and the helpfulness of this feedback are positively related to the motivation for and actual transfer of training. The frequency of feedback as such shows to be negatively related. This suggests that it is indeed not a simple case of increasing feedback as Becker and Klimoski (1989) noted and that increasing feedback can even be detrimental for learning (Schmidt, 1991). This research indicates that it is more beneficial for transfer of training to increase the amount of people providing feedback. Increasing the frequency of feedback within a tie seems counterproductive.

These results are also concurrent with research showing that diverse networks, which include a great number of ties, are associated with improved individual performance (Storberg-Walker & Gubbins, 2007). The findings can be explained by Granovetter's (1973) weak ties theory stating that distant and infrequent relationships (i.e. weak ties) are efficient for knowledge sharing as they provide access to novel information. Strong ties, which are, among other things, defined by the frequency of contact, are likely to lead to redundant information because they tend to occur among a small group of actors in which everyone knows what the other knows.

Feedback literature indicated the source of the feedback as an important aspect of feedback (Becker & Klimoski, 1989), as this can influence the perception and acceptance of feedback. In line with the social support aspect in the transfer of training literature, this study checked if the inclusion of supervisor feedback in the network affects the motivation and the transfer of training. This showed not to be the case. This is in line with research on social support that shows that the presence and support of a supervisor did not have a significant influence (Cheng & Hampson, 2008; van der Klink et al., 2001; Velada et al., 2007). However, it is not in line with research on multirater feedback, indicating that peer feedback is more powerful for subsequent behavioral change than supervisor feedback (Smither et al., 2005). Probably, there is a difference in purpose of the multirater feedback between most multirater feedback studies in the HRD literature and our study. The purpose of multirater feedback is often implicit, but from the setting description of many studies, the purpose can be interpreted as performance management. This is not the case in our setting, where peer feedback is explicitly used for supporting the employee in how he/she fulfills the role of a tutor (developmental purpose).

Limitations and future research

The specific setting of this study and the relative small sample size need to be taken into consideration and limit the simple generalization of the results. More research, both within educational institutions as well as within other organizations, is necessary to validate these findings. Given the differences in performance orientation between different organizations, the results might differ. Moreover, the specificity of teaching in the sense that teaching behavior is seldom directly observed by colleagues and surpervisors affects the kind of feedback that can be provided. Transfer of training and the effect of the network could be different for activities in which this is the case.

Moreover, future research should take explicitly into account the purpose of the feedback. Although feedback is often associated with development, the literature on multirater feedback indicates feedback is often used with the purpose of performance management. Features of feedback might have a different affect of transfer of training when feedback has a performance management purpose.

Furthermore, the data were collected from the participants in the training. No other data sources were used. As this is appropriate for some of the variables in this study (motivation to transfer and helpfulness of feedback), it would be informative to triangulate some of the measures with other sources: members of the networks, observation of behavior in the performance environment, in this case the classroom of the teachers, etc.

Implications

Nevertheless, this study underscores the power of adopting a social network perspective. It provides a fine-grained way of looking into processes in the workplace that facilitate learning and transfer. Also, this research underpins the power of feedback to turn the workplace into a learning environment fostering transfer of training. Hereby, it adds to the transfer of training research by unraveling the role of feedback from a social network perspective. Moreover, these results using the network perspective suggest that interventions aimed at the development of an appropriate network structure of trainees can impact the transfer of training.

Rather than simply focusing on encouraging networking, the challenge is to identify the specific structural elements of social networks that may be most beneficial. These insights could help trainees with the knowledge and the skills to strategically develop valuable personal social networks (Gubbins & MacCurtain, 2008). Moreover, it informs HRD interventions concerned with facilitating the management and the development of the network structure (Gubbins & MacCurtain, 2008). HRD practitioners need to make visible these social networks. Tools for social network analysis could enable such identification (Storberg-Walker & Gubbins, 2007).

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Transfer of training
  5. Motivation to transfer
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Conclusion and discussion
  9. References
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