Global learning survey: The results are in!

Being creative

Almost half (47%) say that their organisation has a creative approach to designing and commissioning learning

Impact's Liz Wilson, Senior Consultant shares her thoughts on “A creative approach to designing and commissioning learning”:

It’s possible to feel intimidated by that phrase. Ours is an industry with a thirst for new and different – we’re propelled into innovation by advances in everything from technology to neuroscience. As our organisations either lead the way or struggle to keep up, so do we, as L&D enthusiasts, either nudge people gently into the future or hang onto their coat tails as they hurtle there themselves. Often, at Impact, we are asked “what’s new?” and we find ourselves walking the line between new and effective and new for the sake of it!

The world offers endless possibilities for learning, every day – from raising an eyebrow in a moment of enlightenment to learning that is structured and deliberate. Our job is to be smart about human nature, to ensure that people are switched on to the possibility of learning and that they notice it when it’s happening or has happened. We can’t stop people learning – they are doing it all the time, taking in information, forming impressions, making decisions according to what they’ve absorbed.

Our job is also to be smart about what the organisation needs and then to map our subtle and nuanced understanding of where people are right now, of how they learn and what they are already learning, against what we believe they need to learn next – with a view to happy, healthy people and an organisation worth working for. If we use our clever brains to do this well, the solution can only ever be ‘creative’ – whatever methods or ideas we use, new or ancient.

Learning organisations

55% would describe their organisation as a “learning organisation”

Impact's Grahame Broadbelt, Head of Global Communications, Research and Development shares his thoughts:

Many respondents observed that they were ‘in the early stages of their journey towards becoming a learning organisation’.

For me this is one of the most significant responses to our brief survey and warrants further research. I say that because in my view a ‘learning organisation’ is another way of saying ‘a successful organisation’. We are living in an extraordinary period in human history where the commercial landscape is shifting at dizzying speeds as a result of the complex interactions between technology, globalisation and social change. In this context being a ‘learning organisation’ cannot be a choice it has to be a vital part of the commercial strategy. Put simply, an organisation that cannot learn, cannot experiment, cannot adapt it’s strategy, cannot leverage and constantly develop it’s capabilities will not succeed into the short to medium term.

We are too used to seeing Learning and Development programmes and initiatives designed to fill perceived gaps in the skills and capabilities of individuals or teams without working on building the overall learning capability of the organisation as a whole.

We need to move away from seeing learning and development as a subset of HR and grasp the reality that a learning strategy is the commercial strategy. Lean startups and disruptive entrants into traditional marketplaces are only successful because they learn quickly and adapt. That is why they are successful and stealing market share from incumbents and sleepy brands everywhere.

Finally, I also suspect that a ‘learning organisation’ is a great place to work and certainly much better than an organisation that doesn’t value learning enough to put it at the heart of their business.


Personal coaching and personal mentoring seem to be a very popular way to learn – 83% find personal coaching very or highly effective, and 82% for personal mentoring.

David Cooper, Senior Consultant, Impact Americas shares his thoughts:

These figures don’t surprise me, especially when seen alongside all of the comments on the poll related to social support - interpersonal connections, learning with others and shared experience. Coaching and mentoring are a direct link to these. The value goes beyond just the coach/coachee and mentor/mentee relationship - the engagement offers other elements of learning that we crave - direct experience, social support, on the job learning, and more. It also puts development power in the hands of the learner/employee and that is a crucial ingredient to learning and change. Information is not transformation. In a quality coaching or mentor relationship a development feedback loop is created so we experience and experiment with the advice, knowledge, and learning obtained.

I have seen an increased interest in mentoring/coaching both internally and externally. More participants are reaching out post programme and more organisations are showing an appetite to incorporate coaching into learning interventions. Internally we see more organisations supporting and offering programmes to employees.

Coaching has also become a critical component in a refreshed and progressive approach to performance management. We are seeing a positive move towards more frequent and ongoing conversations rather than bi-annual or quarterly reviews and calibrations. As such we see more and more organisations introducing training programs focused on developing coaching skills in leaders.


Ways of learning

- 54% find face-to-face learning highly effective
- only 9% find online learning highly effective

Federica Bocciardi, Consultant and Facilitator with Impact Italia shares her thoughts:

Online learning is increasing exponentially all over the world, yet this survey seems to show that people perhaps aren’t happy about that, or do not trust that they can actually learn effectively using online tools.

Does this mean that virtual learning is just a trend that is going to fade? I don't think so. Personally, I think that virtual learning will become increasingly present in the corporate world. Just think about the next generations - millennials and gen Z - they are used to learning through online tools, it’s the “new normal” for them. But right here and right now, not everyone is comfortable with using technology, or familiar with learning online. A world in which online platforms, apps and avatars seem to be replacing books, listening to teachers and experiencing new challenges can be a daunting one. It can feel like learning requires double the effort – mastering the content/topic of the training and also the technology.

But let’s have a look at what respondents said in the qualitative comments of the survey.

What people say they lack when it comes to online learning is:

  • Interactions
  • Feedback from facilitators and peers
  • The opportunity to learn from others

In my experience in designing and delivering virtual learning for Impact, I have found that what really makes a difference is using a blended learning approach, where different methodologies can be combined to create bespoke and inspiring learning solutions

Informal vs Formal

89% find on the job learning very or highly effective. This compares to 63% for learning as part of a formal programme.

David Williams, Impact’s Founder and CEO shares his thoughts:

If a formal programme is interpreted purely as classroom-based training, removed from the reality of work then I can understand why it would be seen as less effective than on the job learning. We all learn and develop in different ways with different preferences.

I think that real learning is best catered for through a blended solution combining elements of face-to-face, virtual learning, on-going coaching and a well-designed action learning component - e.g. a real task to achieve as a learning experience - to encourage self-directed and collaborative learning on the job. 

Learning needs to be structured to suit organisational and individual needs. Most importantly, if on the job learning is to be successful, then people need to learn “how to learn”. Experiential learning, in its many facets, can be a really useful component of this approach. Enabling people to plan, do, review and learn as part of their on-the-job experience, with support and challenge from peers and managers, can be a very powerful way of accelerating the learning process. When this approach is embedded and supported within the work environment it can help you to take a great step towards becoming a learning organisation. Every day presents opportunities to learn, to change and to develop.

Bill Gates famously said that “success is not a great teacher”. Sometimes the most powerful learning can come from failure and mistakes. This is where an enlightened organisation can really enhance the learning experience for people. A culture where it’s OK to make mistakes and learn, where you can fail fast, learn and move on, will be a better culture in which to learn and develop than a fear culture, where people hide their mistakes, blame others or are too terrified to try new and different approaches.

For people to learn and develop effectively at work, then the focus really does need to be on creating a learning organisation where the very best ideals of 70/20/10 are in place and where each individual is supported and challenged to grow and to achieve their full potential.

Return on investment

Over half (56%) say they are ineffective at measuring ROI of L&D spend.

Maggie Pearce, Impact's Head of Global Practice, shares her thoughts:

It’s not surprising to hear that the majority of respondents feel that they are ineffective in this area – measuring ROI of L&D spend, in its entirety, is notoriously difficult to achieve.

When it comes to learning, the return on investment comes in such a diverse variety of forms that measurement is anything but simple. Some benefits may be immediate and clear – the application of new skills, tangible changes in behaviour – but others will only become apparent over the longer term. With this in mind, getting too hung up on measurement can actually be counterproductive. It can be all too easy to measure the things that are measurable and inadvertently make them more important – meaning increased focus on immediate benefits, when actually the most significant outcomes may well be the more longer term, less tangible and elusive ones.

It is also important to remember that behavioural outcomes only become measurable with use, and sometimes the right opportunity to apply newly developed skills and insights may not present themselves immediately for each individual. This doesn’t mean the intervention has not been successful!

20% say there has been an improvement in these measurements in the last year.

Developments in technology/digital as a means of tracking and gathering data to measure the effectiveness of learning may contribute to this improvement.

At Impact, we are also finding that our Learning Mapping approach is having a tangible and positive impact on the quality and outcomes of our solutions. Learning Mapping provides an effective framework for dialogue between our clients, their stakeholders and ourselves. Through Learning Mapping we are able to reach a shared understanding of the rationale and assumptions that underpin the design, delivery and evaluation of a solution. This clarity of purpose helps us to identify clearer learning objectives, as well as tangible development outcomes and business results.


Despite the fact that 70% said their company invests in activities/resources to improve wellbeing, only 1/3 said their working life had improved their overall wellbeing in the last 12 months.

Roy White, Impact’s Global Advisory Lead shares his thoughts:

The discrepancy in this stat is only surprising in that it isn’t higher. A lot of companies are offering activities and resources to improve wellbeing without addressing the cultures that exist within their organisations. In this regard this then becomes a wasted investment and may even been seen as ‘lip service’ by employees. Companies need to start by addressing cultures of long working hours, weekend and holiday working as well as unhealthy e-mail practices and then invest in activities and resources to support these changes.