Self-education at work: a study of preferences in the USA, Europe and Asia

The profile resource Modern Workplace Learning processed data from 7.5 thousand profiles of its visitors and subscribers and found out what methods of training (as part of their professional activities) are preferred by people around the world. The final study contains detailed breakdowns by age, gender, region, and company size (including freelancers).

The study dates back to “Dokovidovskie” times, and, curiously, conferences and distance learning in almost all cases are at the very end. Including in those countries where the cult of conferences has flourished for the second decade.

What does most prefer

For each of the training options, the table shows the percentage of respondents who have chosen one or another degree of importance. The last column shows the percentage of respondents for whom this method of training is generally important (the sum of the answers “very important” and “necessary”). Teaching methods are sorted in descending order of this general importance to the audience – by the last column.

Fields highlighted in green indicate the most popular answer for each learning method.

Let us analyze these figures in the context of geography, the size of the organization, gender and age of the respondents, as well as their roles in the company.


Does the national culture influence the value that each of the teaching methods carries to the respondents? As it turned out, yes. The survey involved residents of 72 countries, which, for simplicity, the authors of the study combined into groups:

  • USA (22%)
  • Great Britain and Ireland (20%)
  • Canada (9%)
  • Oceania (12%): Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, American Samoa
  • Continental Europe (22%): France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Malta, Poland, Bulgaria , Romania, Serbia, Croatia. Slovenia, Czech Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Ukraine
  • Asia (6%): India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Taiwan, Russia, Kazakhstan
  • Middle East and Africa (4%): Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Lebanon, Israel, Yemen, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Cameroon, South Africa, Namibia, Madagascar
  • South America and the Caribbean (2%): Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago.

We will take a detailed picture for each group of countries from the original article, but we will dwell on the conclusions with all the details, since there are a number of interesting points:

  • In the USA, a gradual shift in focus from training courses to web resources is noticeable. Classroom activities are less valued than coaches and managers. The value of the professional community is below average.
  • In Canada, traditional ways of internal training in companies are more important than external resources or networking.
  • In Great Britain and Ireland, leaders as a source of knowledge are valued on average more than in other countries, and distance education does not seem to be popular.
  • For professionals from continental Europe, professional communication with managers and trainers is especially valuable. Conferences are of higher value (relative to other groups).
  • In Oceania, feedback from management is appreciated. External resources – blogs and news feeds, as well as professional communities – are rated on average higher than in other groups, and distance learning and conferences are lower.
  • In Asia (to which Russia has been added) distance learning is valued much higher, and the company’s resources are lower than in other geographical areas. Leaders and trainers are rated highly, and blogs and news feeds are lower than in other regions.
  • The sample in the Middle East and Africa is small, which made it difficult to analyze in detail. But distance learning, coaches and mentors are highly valued here, and classroom activities are not so popular.

Company scale

In the questionnaire, respondents were asked to indicate the size of the organization in which they work. The answers were distributed as follows:

  • 66% work in companies with more than 250 employees
  • 11% – in teams ranging in size from 50 to 250 people
  • 7% in companies with 10–49 employees
  • 15% – in small business (up to 10 people)

In general, the evidence suggests that the size of the organization does not have a significant impact on the value of various learning methods. But there are a couple of points. People who work in small organizations value external sources more: web resources, blogs, professional networks, and to a lesser extent internal company resources. The authors of the study suggested that the reason for this is the absence (in contrast to large companies) of a small business budget for the formation of decent internal resources.

Since statistics for large companies practically coincides with the general average indicators, we will give a table with small companies where there are “shifts”.

For organizations with less than 10 employees:

Gender differences

The survey involved 64% of women and 36% of men. A comparison of the preferences of each group shows almost no difference – with the exception of small details. It seems that for women the tip of the leader means a little more than for men, while men value professional networks higher.

For women:

For men:

Age preferences

Taking into account the age of the survey participants allows us to make some interesting observations. Among the participants:

  • 9% are younger than 30 years old;
  • 20% – from the age of 31 to 39 years old,
  • 34% of the participants are over 40,
  • 25% – for 50,
  • 8% over 60 years.

The two youngest categories of respondents assess sources of knowledge quite differently from the audience as a whole. They attach much greater importance to internal resources and actions than to external ones. Those. they are more focused on the implementation of current work, and not on the study of the profession in a broader sense.

Up to 30 years:

For an older audience (40–50 years old), the situation is changing: the outside world is becoming more important for them, and the role of a leader or trainer is becoming secondary.

For specialists over 60, the leader is of the least importance. This audience appreciates that which provides knowledge from the outside – distance learning, conferences. At the same time, classrooms seem to them insignificant.

Over 60 years old:

Without going into stereotypes about generations, we will make an important conclusion: at different stages of career development, specialists value different training opportunities. Those. using only one approach will obviously not satisfy everyone. And, probably, this emphasizes the importance of managers, coaches and mentors for young employees.

Working role

Are there age differences in work roles? Of course. But age and work roles (especially managerial ones) are not always unambiguously correlated.
However, it is curious that feedback from the leader and coaching are less valuable for those who take non-managerial positions.

Line managers value internal rather than external resources, although their preferences change as they get older. Thus, there is some correlation between age and managerial role. And this fact clearly emphasizes the potential of training to support managers, since as they develop, they increasingly use external resources to help with their daily work.

The authors of the study found the most interesting profile of those who are in an unpaid position or in freelance (outside the state), of which 8% were in the survey. They value training during daily work, but at the same time, development through professional networks and access to external web resources, blogs and news feeds are more important for them than internal corporate resources and courses. They rate conferences on average lower, which is probably related to out-of-pocket costs and the fact that they can use other approaches efficiently.

Probably, in the future this trend will become even more relevant, since we have left the concept of a “workplace for life”, and everyone should take responsibility for their education and development. As noted above, this is not so for young professionals – they are still very focused on work and not on their own future, and depend on internal sources of training. They need to be helped not only to get the most out of everyday activities, but also to realize the range of opportunities for them to learn and develop. It is they who will then help their organizations survive and succeed in the new labor world.


Next, we consider each of the 12 selected learning methods separately, dividing them into two large groups:

  • training within the work environment (daily work, sharing knowledge in a team, feedback from management, mentoring and mentoring, distance learning, classroom activities and company resources);
  • learning from the external environment (web search and web resources, the professional community, blogs and news feeds, conferences).

In-house training

At the very top of the rating is everyday work and knowledge sharing in a team. They are considered by almost all groups of respondents as the main ways of learning. However, line managers value these ways of sharing knowledge far less than any other categories. Moreover, it is line managers who are the key to the success of a knowledge-sharing culture in a company, so efforts must be made to help them organize this value.

An analysis of two other teaching methods that fall into the category of the most important, feedback from the leader and mentoring, allows us to draw interesting conclusions:

  • It seems that the youngest employees really value management feedback, while senior employees see less sense in them. The same audience values ​​mentoring more – people under 30 consider it necessary.
  • Women value management feedback much more than men.
  • In some regions, for example, in Oceania and Asia (to which Russia was included), feedback from management is more valued. There are also regions where mentoring plays a big role – the Middle East, Africa and Asia (again, including Russia).

The traditional methods of training in the workplace – classroom studies and distance education – occupy very low positions. Classroom activities are appreciated by young employees – perhaps because they remind them of recent experience in school and university. To a lesser extent, these classes are of interest to older employees, especially specialists from the United States.

Distance learning by a young audience is also in demand, but, interestingly, specialists over the age of “60” see the most sense in this form. Among those to whom this option of training brings the least value, line managers again appear. Perhaps they think that this form of self-education interrupts everyday work?

The following conclusions can be drawn about the value of the company’s internal resources:

  • The cultural factor is clearly important here: in some geographical regions this method is valued more than in others.
  • The youngest employees value internal resources more – it seems that they value everything they can take from the company for their development.
  • Freelance employees consider only the internal resources of the company important.
  • Small companies with no more than 10 employees speak of lesser importance of internal resources. This is likely due to budget constraints.

Summary of on-the-job training

What conclusions can be drawn from this analysis from the point of view of the company?

Line managers should:

  • understand the importance of caring for your team, in particular through feedback on the work of everyone who needs it, especially young employees;
  • Provide knowledge sharing within your team
  • provide mentoring and coaching opportunities.

The company should provide the opportunity for classroom studies, but only in those areas where it is necessary. At the same time, you can switch from the distance learning format, which consumes valuable working time, to access to on-demand training resources (which can be accessed during work). In general, a company can help employees become more self-sufficient and confident in the context of their work.

Learning from the environment

At the top of the ranking of sources of training in the external environment were web search and web resources. And there are two interesting observations:

  • Attention to these sources changes with age. The youngest employees are less interested in these opportunities, while the oldest employees are, on the contrary, more.
  • The same goes for management roles. Line managers value them less than middle and senior managers.

When evaluating professional communities, blogs, and news feeds (which are in the middle of the ranking), the same trends stand out, but the degree of significance depends on the size of the company. Those who work in small organizations value these ways of learning higher.

Conferences, the importance of which is low on average, are more valued by older employees (maybe because it means a day off in the office?). Freelance employees value them less, perhaps due to the already mentioned extra costs out of their pocket, as well as due to the fact that they can learn in other ways.

External Resume Summary

The authors of the study identified three key things that companies should do:

  • It is necessary to help employees (especially the youngest) to learn to value the sources of new knowledge in the outside world. It is also worth paying some attention to developing their skills in a modern approach to learning.
  • Line managers must be helped to understand the importance of continuing self-education outside the organization and set aside time for it.
  • Guide environmental resources inside the company so that they are integrated into the daily work environment.

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