Only 14% think that company training is an essential way for them to learn in the workplace

UPDATE: Survey has re-opened. Submit your own data and find out the current pattern of results of how people prefer to learn at work.

That was one of the findings of my recent anonymous survey on how people learn best in the workplace, and even I was surprised by the results.  But I think the biggest take-away from my survey is that we can no longer assume we know how people like to learn in the workplace nor how we think people should learn. So in this blog post, I want to share the data from my survey, some of my thoughts about the results, and the importance of undertaking your own survey.

The survey’s main question asked respondents to rate the importance of 10 different ways of learning in the workplace  – as “Not important”, “Somewhat important”, “Very Important” or “Essential”.  Here are the responses in the form of a heat map –  from 131 people from 28 different countries – although the survey is still open and further responses are still coming in. Click on the image for a larger version.

Here are some of the things I picked up on:

1 – Just under half of the respondents think Company Training (that includes face-to-face workshops as well as e-learning) is only “somewhat important”, and nearly 20% find it “not important at all”; that’s nearly 70% of the respondents. Although a lot has been written about the ineffectiveness of training, I was surprised that training was rated so low, so I looked further into the data.

Firstly, this same pattern of results was visible across all functions. So who said it was essential? Well, although there were responses from across the board, they came mainly and notably from a number of e-learning and training providers, trainers as well as some academics and L&D people. And who said it was “not important” – was it just those who worked in small organisations without a training department? Well, there were a few in this category, but in fact most of the respondents who said it was unimportant came from organisations with sizes between 100 and 9,999.  It also included some academics and trainers. In fact one respondent pointed out the irony.

“My function is primarily driven by the need to help others learn (classroom training – computer and professional development skills). My own quest to learn is very much self directed … to serve the needs of my customer better”

2 – Interestingly, around the same number of respondents rate self-directed study of external courses more highly than company training – i.e. as “very important”. From additional comments  made by a couple of respondents, it seems that some even go so far as to fund their own professional development so that they can study what they really need to know.

3 – Just like company training, the use of company job aids and company documents are also only seen as “somewhat important”. I found this quite surprising, I thought more people would value job aids, but maybe this is due to the dearth of good quality job aids available.

4 90% of respondents, however,  think that learning from collaborative working within your team is “essential” or “very important”, whilst conversations, feeds,  personal and professional networking, curated content and using Google to search the Web are also rated very highly. Very few people in fact considered these items as “not important”.

5 – There were no significant differences in this pattern of results across any of the areas surveyed: age, sex, job role, organizational size and type, although there were clearly differences in individual responses – and that is clearly something we need to keep sight of.


By using a weighted scoring system I then ranked the 10 different items in order of importance (see below) and then classified them in three areas: as internal documentation and training, social and collaborative working, and/or personal learning strategies.

& Training
Social &
Collaborative working within your team 448 x
Personal & professional networks & communities 426 x x
General conversations and meetings with people 420 x
Google search for web resources 415  x
External blog and news feeds 403  x
Curated content from external sources 377 x
Self-directed study of external courses 357  x
Internal company documents 341  x
Internal job aids 330  x
Company training 296  x

And it becomes quite apparent now (if it wasn’t before), that for this sample of respondents, internal documentation and training initiatives are the least important ways of learning for them, and that their involvement in social and collaborative activities, as well as organising their own learning initiatives are the main ways they learn. In other words they are largely social, autonomous workers.


Although the sample size is far too small to make generalisations about how L&D practices should change, if this were an organizational survey, on the basis of these results I would be recommending that the organisation (1) focus less on top-down content creation and delivery (including organised and managed “one-size fits all” training) and (2) focus more on supporting the social and collaborative practices taking place in teams, projects and across the enterprise, but also (3) make a major shift towards supporting autonomous workers and their own personal learning strategies.

But of course it is essential to understand what is important to the workers in your own organisation and how they learn best, and use this to identify where your own L&D efforts should be focused, so I would recommend you run your own learner survey to inform yourself about how people are really learning in your organisation.

In the meantime, in my next post I want to pick up on the topic of personal learning strategies for workplace learning, and how we can help and support the emerging autonomous workforce.