Organizational Trends In Learning And Development

Organizational Trends In Learning And Development
Summary: This article highlights organizational trends around cost, time, modality, and content in the field of Learning and Development based upon ATD’s 2015 State of the Industry report, the latest available. In addition to presenting data, the article posits theories about what may drive certain metrics.

Learning And Development: Top Organizational Trends In 2016   

Members of ATD may access the complete ATD’s 2015 State of the Industry report for free, while non-members may order it for a one-time charge. Learning practitioners who want greater context, industry-specific information, and charts that outline organizational trends over time should review the full report. This brief summary provides high level information learning professionals may use as a point of reference when helping executives, Subject Matter Experts, and those new to the profession better understand the current landscape.

Costs Organizational Trends

The amount that organizations spend on training marks one of the greatest areas of variance in the information covered in the report. Small organizations spend significantly more on training per employee than large organizations at $1,716 to $868 (ATD: 2015 State of the Industry, 8). However, this difference makes sense once one considers reuse and the economies of scale large organizations can apply to their training deliverables. When considering the cost per training item available, and the cost per training item used, small organizations exhibit a seemingly paradoxical situation in which the cost per hour available runs less than half that of large organizations, $1,162 compared to $2,324, while the cost per learning hour used amounts to more than double that of large organizations, $95 dollars compared to $42 (22-23). The lower cost per learning hour used in large organizations likely correlates to the same concepts of reuse and economies of scale that temper overall spending per employee. Additionally, ATD posits that the anomaly of low spending per hour available at small organizations may stem from pressure to reduce costs due to a lack of delivery options. One might extrapolate that this frugal approach applies not only from a dearth of delivery options, but also from greater awareness when working with a small budget. ATD further notes that industry differences may also play a role as small organizations distort toward management consulting businesses which needn’t supply expensive technical or role-specific training. Organizations honored as best in class mirrored large organizations, spending $2,395 per hour available, yet only $55 per hour used. This implies they created specialized training, yet leveraged economies of scale to mitigate expenses.

The 2015 report also outlines how training aligns to an organization’s revenue and profit. Although small as a percentage, these investments often represent a significant amount in terms of raw dollars, particularly at large organizations. Mean training expenditures for 2014 sit at 1.5% of revenue and 8% of profit (16). Of note, best in class organizations spend significantly less at .5% of revenue and 2.1% of profit which suggests that they spend more efficiently (17). However, a large best in class organization may produce a profit in the billions of dollars. Thus, a miniscule 2.1% accounts for $21M for every billion dollars in profit an organization makes. In 2014, Apple generated a profit of $39.5B, which using the same ratio, denotes a budget of almost $830M for Learning and Development.

Time, Content, And Modality Organizational Trends

The difference in total time an employee devotes to training on an annual basis varies little for small, mid, and large-sized organizations with a mean time of 33 hours. This implies that regardless of size, organizations value training (8). Based upon a 40 hour work week with a vacation allotment of two weeks, average employees spend approximately 1.7% of their time at work completing formal training. Regarding the type of training on which most employees focus, over a third centers on three areas: managerial, function/job specific, and compliance (29).

While the move toward technology-centric training continues, a full half of all formal learning remains instructor led (29). Self-paced online training (eLearning) comprises 19% of all training while the virtual classroom now accounts for 10%. Mobile learning delivered on a smart phone or tablet still greatly lags these other delivery methods at 2% (31). Mobile learning has witnessed some growth as it stood at a mere 1.5% in 2013, yet only a third of organizations surveyed have a mobile learning program (32). This small percentage may reflect the challenge of working with new technology as well as limits around the type of content a mobile device can display.


Based upon the above information and multi-year trending data from the report, organizations have once again increased their focus on Learning and Development post the 2008 recession. Since numbers vary based upon size, industry, and specific company-needs, those who wish to create a comprehensive profile of how their own organization stacks up against industry standards, should review the full research.