Towards Maturity Report: Top Organisations Listen to Learners, Curate and Integrate Learning with Workflow


There’s no shortage of opinion on what works in learning. But there’s a shortage of data. Fortunately we have Laura Overton and her great team at Towards Maturity to put that right and today sees the release of the Annual Towards Maturity Benchmark Report. Towards Maturity has gathered data from 600 organisations on the state of learning and performance in their businesses.

The theme of this year’s report is Unlocking Potential. It looks across all 600 organisations and segments what the Top Deck (the top 10%) are doing that makes them stand out. The whole report is worth a detailed read, you can download it for free here. Here are some of the key findings that stood out for us.

Business Is Changing – But Learning Stays The Same

You probably knew this before you read the report, but we’re operating in a complex and changing world. 72% of CEOs believe the next three years will be more critical for their industry than the last 50. The challenge to Learning and Development teams is how they’re going to help their CEO and internal customers move at pace, deliver change and stay agile in uncertain times.

Is that happening? The report shows there’s certainly a will…

  • 93% want to integrate learning and work (up from 80% in 2015)
  • 95% want to respond faster to the speed of business
  • 98% want to support the sharing of good practice
  • 90% want to play an active role in supporting business innovation (up from 80% in 2015)

…But the evidence shows that there’s very little real change. The report notes that learning provision today is largely unchanged from 5 years ago:

  • 56% of courses are still delivered face-to-face only
  • 19% of budget is allocated to learning technologies
  • 22% is delivered via blended solutions (down from 26% last year)

Most use of technology is focused on courses and Learning Management systems, rather than helping people get what they need quickly.

  • 9 in 10 are using live online learning and e-learning content
  • 3 in 4 are using Learning Management Systems
  • 7 in 10 are using video and mobile

Apart from the increase in mobile (and a lot of that is down to individuals using their own devices and apps) that’s pretty much the same picture as in 2011.  So while the world of work and learning has changed, the main solutions that L&D provides have not. That should be an alarm bell to L&D. Here’s another: L&D is not giving learners what they want.

Learners Don’t Want What L&D Provides

q1For a long time, organisations have told learners you’re responsible for your own learning. The report shows that people are just fine with that:

89% of staff consider that they are responsible for managing their own learning and development, rising to 93% for those working from home, and 94% of those educated to postgraduate level.

How are they learning? Not from the formal learning that L&D offers:

  • 60% learn more by finding things out for themselves than from formal courses.
  • Only 47% of learners find elearning courses essential or very useful.

So what are learners doing to take control of their own learning? They know that more useful information is outside the organisation than inside it. So they’re finding the good stuff for themselves:

  • 70% find Google or other search for web resources essential or very useful (81% for those in senior roles)
  • 70% curate topics that interest them and file for future reference –  but only 39% publish curated content to share with others

q2So learners are curating content for themselves. But it’s not easy: 1 in 4 people can’t find what they need. As the report says “When they are hard-pressed for time, time wasted on unfruitful searches leaves learners reluctant to engage with digital learning.”

But while 70% of learners curate for themselves, according to the report only 14% of organisations are using curation as part of their approach to learning at work. For me those two stats speak volumes about the disconnect between what learners want and what L&D provides. What can we do about it?

The Opportunity for L&D: Help People Find What They Need To Do Their Jobs

This creates an opportunity for L&D to be heroes. If you can help people find what they need to get on with their jobs, and keep it short and focused, you meet people where they want and you make an impact. The top performers are doing this.  

  • 71% of the top deck deliver learning in time to meet business needs (vs 43% of others)
  • 42% of the top deck organisations provide micro-learning (i.e. under five minutes) where appropriate (vs 18% of others)
  • 35% are curating content (vs 14% of others)

To be fair, L&D teams desperately want to be part of the solution:

  • 98% want to play a part in increasing the sharing of good practice (96% in 2015)
  • 93% are looking to integrate learning into the workflow (up from 80% last year)
  • 97% want to speed up the application of learning in the workplace (remaining high, 96% last year)

So what’s stopping it happening?

It’s not the lack of channels. The vast majority of organisations have platforms and channels in place that can be used to embed relevant content in the daily workflow:

  • 75% have an LMS
  • 79% have an enterprise wide information portal  such as SharePoint (up by 36%)
  • 74% use some form of communication tool such as Instant Messaging or Newsletters
  • 48% have a third party social network (up by 55% on last year)

It’s not the lack of appetite. As we’ve seen, learners want to find relevant content and take it upon themselves to curate outside of the workplace.

The barriers to change: cost and skills

The top 3 reasons cited in the report as reasons for a lack of change in learning were:

  • 66% cost of development, set-up and maintenance
  • 62% lack of skills amongst employees to manage own learning
  • 59% Lack of skills amongst L&D staff to implement and manage e-learning


Is finding and sharing content in the workflow costly and difficult? It doesn’t have to be.

Cost: Finding valuable, relevant content from external sources and internal ones takes time. That’s the main cost in curation. However, using tools that automate and filter external content for you can significantly reduce those costs. It’s also cheaper than building a course that less than half of learners will find useful.  And as the report shows, there’s a lot of great, free content out there: 64% of top performing organisations are using free content such as YouTube videos and TED Talks.

Employee Skills: Employees seem to have a lot more skill and motivation to manage their own learning than the organisation gives them credit for. This points to a real lack of understanding of how learners organise themselves. They are just not waiting for the next course to be developed. They’re finding information through their own searches and sources.

L&D skills / knowledge: This is understandable. L&D teams are under pressure to deliver and the fallback is to work with traditional and understood methods. But given the appetite to innovate and support learners differently, there’s an opportunity here which the report calls out clearly  – develop skills around social and collaborative learning: “There is an urgency by organisations to build social and collaborative learning with over half (53%) highlighting that they need to develop this skill immediately, while one in five say they need to develop this in the next two years.”

How Top Performers Are Winning

q4The report shows how the top tier of organisations pull away from others on a range of fronts. To highlight just three related to the challenges above:

1. They look externally and curate

Most change in any industry is going to happen outside your organisation. The top deck get this, and they look outside to bring in relevant content – and a lot of it is free.

  • 62% use external best practice video (41% for others)
  • 82% use free open education resources (vs 60%)
  • 69% use learning portals with paid-for content (vs 45%)

They also do a better job of organising and curating content for their staff, and making it available where people need it:

  • 35% of high performers have curation strategies in place to help staff make sense of the resources available to them 
  • 84% use enterprise-wide information systems 
  • 71% use internal learning portals to bring together related content 

2. They integrate learning with the workflow

85% of Top Deck organisations agree that their approach is shaped by models that support learning directly in the flow of work, compared to 46% of the rest.

As the report says, the top deck are thinking beyond the course to the business issue and more able to understand the impact of learning. They are also more equipped to support collaborative sharing amongst staff, essential for influencing a wider learning culture.

3. They listen and collaborate 

The top 10% also put a higher emphasis on empowering staff (focusing on their needs and maximising their opportunities to learn in the most natural way), designing learning in smaller engaging chunks and gathering feedback and data to inform ongoing decision making. They also build in collaborating and sharing into the workflow. 

  • 57% of high performers make use of learning communities (vs 42% of others)
  • 57% promote communities of practice (vs 47%)

And it delivers results:  

  • 87% of those in top deck organisations agree that staff can access learning relevant to their job (vs 45% in rest of sample)
  • The average achievement of goals related to productivity and performance is 62% in the Top Deck organisations, compared with just 26% across the board.
  • They are three times as likely to agree that learning innovation has:
    • Contributed to productivity improvements (64% vs 19%)
    • Contributed to revenue increase (62% vs 15%)

L&D – are you about to get Trumped?

Our main takeaway from the report is there’s tremendous potential to tap into the potential of learners and support them through a wide range of learning content and technologies. Top performing organisations are looking externally to bring in relevant content. They’re organising and curating content to help learners find what they need, keeping it short and focused, helping people to share and collaborate –  and it’s delivering results.

But for most organisations, the report shows that the potential is untapped. There’s a wide gap between what learners want and what L&D provides.

We’ve seen what happens when people feel the establishment doesn’t listen to them. It’s not a stretch to draw a parallel with the political changes we’ve seen in 2016 and the situation inside organisations. The polling shows that learners feel they’re not being listened to and are not being supported with what they want. They want timely and relevant content that supports them with their jobs. They’re getting courses that are seen as valuable by less than half of learners. But L&D is not changing to respond to their needs.

So learners are doing it for themselves. By taking matters into their own hands, they’re sending a message to the establishment. The question is – will L&D hear the message and change, or will we see a revolution where people give up on L&D and just do their own thing (and some might argue that’s no bad thing)?

Three steps for Success

The report shares three tips for success for L&D –  or at least survival:

  1. Transform the transactional: Don’t just produce courses by default. Talk to learners and stakeholders, understand and give people what they really want and need.
  2. Integrate with the workflow: Find relevant content, and put it where people need it. Keep it short, sharp, focused and up to date.
  3. Prepare for an agile future: Nobody knows what the future of work will look like. All we know is there will be constant change and we need to be ready to adapt. L&D can support that by helping people to learn how to learn; encouraging and enabling continual engagement through a culture of sharing.

Congratulations to Laura and the Towards Maturity Team on another very insightful benchmark report. If you want to keep up with all their research, they’re in the 40 top bloggers on learning that we include in our automated curated briefing here.