What’s happening in the business of learning?

What’s happening in the business of learning?

As learning designers and developers, it’s hugely important that we understand how people learn and like to learn, so we can help companies implement the most effective and engaging training programmes. A big part of this is tracking trends on learning consumption in the workplace. That includes interesting facts like how much employers spend on training, whether that learning is face-to-face or online, and even what employers want to focus their training on. 

The annual ATD State of the Industry is a must-read for anyone wanting to gain a better insight into the world of learning and development. The 2019 stats are based on self-reported data from 318 organizations of varying sizes, locations and industries. 

Let’s have a look at some of the key takeaways: 

L&D continued to attract significant investment 

Companies spent $1,299 per employee each year, up slightly from $1,296 the previous year, showing that companies continue to take L&D seriously and are willing to invest in it. Drilling into that further, they found that 62% of direct learning expenditure was spent on internal services, 27% on learning suppliers, and 11% on tuition reimbursement. 

Employees spen34 hours a year doing formal training 

That’s over four days a year focussing on specific training courses or programmes and doesn’t include on-the-job learning. This is in line with the 34.1 learning hour average from the two previous years. 

Managerial training remained a top priority  

With 14% of all content dedicated to managerial and supervisory skills, this area continued to be a key focus for employers. This seems logical, given that almost two-thirds of talent development professionals think there’s a managerial and supervisory skills gap within their organisations1

Other top content areas were: 

  • mandatory and compliance training (13%) 
  • interpersonal skills (10%) 
  • profession-specific and industry-specific (10%) 
  • processes, procedures, and business practices (10%) 

Over half of all learning was face-to-face 

Traditional classroom or instructor-led learning accounted for 54% of all training, while virtual classroom learning accounted for 11%. This clearly demonstrates the significance that employees and employers put on live facilitators. However, with almost a quarter of learning hours assigned to online learning, we mustn’t forget that this also plays an important role in employees’ training as a whole. 

Don’t underestimate on-the-job learning  

We understand the importance of on-the-job learning (check out our Workplace Learning video here) and so did the majority of the companies surveyed. In fact, 55% of companies emphasised on-the-job learning to a high or very high extent. 

Though it’s difficult to gauge exactly how many hours employees spend on this, ATD were able to collect information on the types of on-the-job learning used. 

Here are the top five most common types: 

  • In-person employee knowledge sharing (53.2%)  
  • Coaching by peers (43.7%)  
  • Coaching by managers (41.6%) 
  • Employee knowledge sharing on-the-job aided by technology (24.4%)  
  • Job shadowing (22.7%)  

Of course, in light of COVID-19, it will be interesting to see what happens to training in the coming months and years. It seems inevitable that we’ll see a much bigger shift to virtual classroom and online training. Regardless of delivery type, to survive this period of uncertainty, companies need to invest in their staff – not only to bolster productivity, but to ensure they feel valued and appreciated. 


The ATD 2019 State of the Industry report is free to ATD members and can be purchased by non-members. It’s accessible here. 

  1. Association for Talent Development (ATD), Bridging the Skills Gap: Workforce Development and the Future of Work (Alexandria, VA: ATD Press, 2018). 

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