Hey there! When’s the last time you actually attended a class and learned something new? I’m talking about any class—it could be a weekend CPR/First Aid class at the local Red Cross. Or a gardening class at the YWCA. Or a professional seminar on management and leadership skills. Or technical instruction at your company, offered by the in-house staff trainer. No matter what type of training, it’s important to keep our brains healthy and active, and learning—on any level—is key. Just like exercising the muscles of our bodies will help us remain strong throughout our lifetimes, our brains need exercise, too—and just like our muscles, our brains will actually atrophy if we don’t use them. Yikes! That’s enough to make me sign up for the next class at my local Apple Store—pronto!

But it’s one thing to merely “take a class,” and it’s another thing to actually benefit from it. And that’s where a thing called “learning transfer” comes in.

What exactly is learning transfer? The term—popularized somewhere around 2012—refers to the application of knowledge, skills, and attitudes learned in training. Let’s say you attend a seminar on conflict management. Then, the next day at work, you use some of the techniques you learned to effectively mediate a disagreement between two employees. Or you respond to a colleague’s put-down without losing your temper. That’s learning transfer.

The problem is, learning transfer doesn’t always happen. In fact, it’s been estimated that less than half of the skills and information taught in training will be transferred to the targeted environment (your garden, your relationships with co-workers, someone who needs first aid) after training! Not good news, statistically speaking. And further, who wants to hang out in a classroom, listening to information that might not even “take?” Not me, and I have to assume not you, either.

As a training professional, I very much believe in the importance of learning transfer. After all, the purpose of training is to change behavior and improve performance—and if that doesn’t happen, all the time, effort, and money invested in training is for naught.

So the million-dollar question is this: How do you know before you enroll in a class that what you learn will stick? Look for these signs—they’re all proven components of successful learning transfer:

  • A safe and controlled learning environment
  • Individual assessment of existing skills (and I’m not talking about a “show of hands” or a casual audience query from the trainer—I mean a valid assessment)
  • Clearly stated learning objectives, available to attendees prior to the start of class
  • Interactive format interwoven with dynamic lecture
  • A workbook (or some form of handout) that keeps learners focused during the training and serves as a reference for later
  • Opportunities to practice and get comfortable with new skills
  • Engaging exercises and activities that boost retention
  • Instructors who are experienced trainers and subject matter experts
  • Focus on practical skills—not just theory
  • Individual reflection and exercises that deepen self-awareness
  • Effective visuals and multimedia that engage learners
  • Realistic examples of how skills apply to the targeted environment (your garden, back at work, or in a medical emergency)

But what if the training you’re considering doesn’t have all of these components? Don’t give up altogether. You have several options…

First of all, if you’re really interested in the training (you’ve just gotta get your garden under control!), or if you must have the training in order to fulfill a licensing requirement for your profession (you’re a realtor, an accountant, a teacher, etc., who needs those all-important CEUs), go ahead and go for it anyway. Just be sure and pay extra-careful attention in class, in order to help boost your own personal learning transfer.

Or, here’s the second option: be assertive. There’s nothing wrong with asking for what you want! By asking the instructor to provide the aforementioned training components, you just might improve the quality of training you’re about to receive, and help the entire class—both you and your fellow students—with learning transfer.

So get out there and learn something! You’ll be more competent, informed, knowledgeable, and self-confident. You’ll even be more interesting at cocktail parties! And best of all, your brain will thank you for it, and reward you with years and years of top-notch performance.