Research Digested: Back to the Future – Why tomorrow’s workforce needs a learning culture, Emerald Works

Cover of Emerald Works health check report 2020


A snapshot of useful research for L&D and workplace professionals

Why read this report

It shows the progress L&D teams are making when it comes to strategy, technology, impact and skills development. It also provides insights on how employees learn.

About the research

This is the Emerald Works annual L&D Health Check report. It was formerly the Towards Maturity Health Check. The research forms part go a longitudinal study which has been running for 16 years. Respondents answer questions about their learning strategy, impact and the use of technology. This year, 1,123 L&D leaders responded to the Health Check.

Standout stats

Investment in learning technologies has gone up by 3% in 2020. But, only 15% of learning leaders report successes in driving innovation for business growth – 3% lower the in 2019.

Across the board, the impact of learning technology on the business remains stubbornly low and in many cases decreasing year on year.

  • 93% of respondents say driving innovation for business growth is a priority and yet only 15% are achieving this (down from 18% in 2019)
  • 99% say increasing employee motivation is a priority but only 22% are achieving this (down from 27% in 2019)
  • 97% want to learning technology to help build the capacity of the organisation to solve problems and only 17% are achieving this (down from 20% in 2019)
  • 97% say increasing on the job productivity is a priority and only 25% are achieving it
  • 95% say improving talent management is a priority and only 18% are achieving it
  • 99% say improving organisational performance is a priority and only 21% are achieving it

Strategic alignment

  • 49% of respondents say L&D activity is fully aligned with the strategic goals of the organisation versus 94% of theta performers


  • 34% of respondents say there is a communication plan in place for key stakeholders versus 85% of top performers

L&D alignment

  • 52% of respondents say the entire L&D team understand the strategic goals of the organisation versus 97% of top performers

Learning culture

  • 71% of learning leaders with high-impact learning cultures involve employees in learning design compare with 21% on average. High impact learning cultures are defined as the top 10% of performers in the data sample.

Skills of the L&D team
This year, respondents reported an overall decline in of their teams’ capabilities. The strongest decline was in facilitating social and collaborative learning, dropping from 25% in 2018 to 15% in 2020.

L&D teams remain strong on classroom delivery and learning management but remain weak in almost every other area, from analytics to knowledge management, from performance consulting to digital content development.

Final word

This report is alarming because it shows that the majority of L&D leaders are not having the impact they desire. Technology is not helping and L&D skills development is stagnating. This research shows that these are ongoing problems.On the flip side, the top performers are showing what does work.

The report ends by identifying the six habits of high impact learning cultures based on insights from the research. They are:

1 Lead with purpose
– Be clear on the vision and impact of learning in the organisation

2 Nudge behaviour
– Understand how people are engaged with learning. How can L&D lead on this, making the vision for learning a reality?

3 Facilitate critical connections
– Develop ways for people to connect, collaborate and share knowledge when they need to.

4 Drive experiences that matter
– provides solutions that solve business problems

5 Connect people with success
– ensure people are using the learning infrastructure in the right way

6 Adapt capability to need
– Ensure L&D has the right business intelligence to make the right decisions

These seem like a useful set of principles for building environments in which learning can thrive.


Report reading time: 20 minutes

Media: PDF