The digital skills imperative in business is well-documented as is the pace of change. In Econsultancy’s latest survey, 57% of respondents said that adding or updating digital skills and knowledge should happen at least monthly.

Training is seen as the way to do this, with senior staff saying that compared to hiring or outsourcing, it is the fastest (70%) and most cost-effective (61%) way to boost general digital skills. However, only 43% of executives say that their organisation is adept at training to meet new strategic objectives.

One of the recurring challenges in upskilling programs is adoption by learners, with Econsultancy’s report, ‘Winning the Race for Digital Skills’, suggesting that understanding attitudes to learning is one step towards catering for all learners.

Winning the Race for Digital Skills

Five attitudes to corporate learning

The report uses learner sentiment around different training opportunities to categorise professional learners by their attitudes to structured, workplace learning, though author Stefan Tornquist, SVP Learning at Econsultancy, warns that the takeaway “isn’t that learning heads try to categorise their teammates”, but rather use persona insights to inform learning programs.

Analysis of preference and experience data suggests that 35% of professional learners are set in their ways – either eager for or resistant to structured corporate learning programs – but these personas are the outliers. They are the ‘self starters’ or the ‘compliance only’ learners, respectively voracious or simply doing what is required. The remaining 65% are the ‘moveable middle’.

Respondents were grouped into five attitudes to corporate learning based on analysis of learner sentiment around different training opportunities: ‘compliance only’ (16%), ‘reluctant but…’ (19%), ‘just a push’ (22%), ‘eager with structure’ (24%), and ‘self starters’ (19%).

Make resources available for the ‘self starters’

“For the self-starters, the job for heads of learning is to make sure resources are easy to find and relevant,” writes Tornquist. “Organisations should be mindful that even for motivated individuals who invest time in their own development, this time may not necessarily result in adding value to the business. The key is that there should, at the very least, be some collaboration between the organisation and the individual.”

‘Compliance only’ learners – let them be

For those who resist non-required structured learning, Tornquist advocates letting them be and points out that this group “doesn’t map to a lack of skills, poor mindset or an unwillingness to learn overall. Rather, the compliance-only learners are often more senior and have a strong bias to driving their own learning.”

It’s the two-thirds majority in the ‘moveable middle’ who represent the difference between ordinary and outstanding results from learning – Stefan Tornquist, SVP Learning

The ‘moveable middle’

The report highlights the 65% of learners in the ‘moveable middle’ as “the difference between ordinary and outstanding results from learning.” They break down into three attitude types.

‘Eager with structure’ learners respond to gamification and live kick-offs

The group of learners who are described as ‘eager with structure’ represent nearly a quarter of study respondents. They are open to learning, positive and enthusiastic, but need onboarding and encouragement to take advantage of resources.

“They benefit from live kick-offs to learning programs and are more likely than other groups to respond to gamification, such as leader boards,” writes Tornquist.

‘Just a push’ learners need to see the connection between learning and outcomes

For the ‘just a push’ learners, the push might be an executive introduction, or simply allocated time or budget to learn. A signal of corporate priority or evidence of connection between learning and outcomes are effective at kickstarting this group.

‘Reluctant, but…’ want career mapping and social cues

The most reluctant group in the moveable middle are often sceptical of corporate learning, but Econsultancy’s report lists specific, career-mapped learning and social engagement and cues from above as possible stimuli, such as evaluating progress during managerial check-ins.

Motivating factors for all learners

The report details universal and individual factors that can help structured learning adoption, presented here in abridged form:


  • Career mapping: Establishing the connection between learning objectives and specific roles or categories of role. The process helps to identify gaps, opportunities, and possibilities for the learner.
  • Onboarding: An effective onboarding effort brings program participants together, ideally in live settings, features senior leadership and clearly outlines expectations and outcomes.
  • Executive sponsorship of learning: Employees pay attention to what the organisation prioritises.
  • Manager check-ins: Learning progress and plans should be a regular component of one-to-one meetings with employees.


    • Accreditation: This varies wildly but can be as straightforward as a certificate of course completion. It should be sufficient to allow and encourage sharing achievements to their network and adding them to their CV.
    • Social elements: As in-person workshops are no longer the standard for training, it’s vital to include the human element in learning that’s increasingly self-driven and solitary. Econsultancy advocates that structured training plans complement peer-to-peer learning, where two or more teammates work together, checking-in and quizzing one another.
    • Gamification: A broad category, but in most digital skills training, gamification tends to be a way of increasing engagement through competition.
    • Simulations: These interactive practice elements give learners a way to put their training into practice, try out different decisions and see how they lead to different outcomes and embed knowledge.
    • Assigned time to learn: Data is scarce on the efficacy of the practice. On the one hand, it clearly establishes priority and could be a powerful complement to a popular learning program. On the other, for some employees it can feel like a burden rather than a benefit, especially if the learning program isn’t seen as highly relevant.

A lens not a label – applying best practices to learning

“The key takeaway from the [learning persona] analysis,” writes report author Stefan Tornquist, “[is] to reinforce the necessity of applying best practices to learning experience and design.”

It’s also important to note that these attitudes to corporate learning apply mainly to structured materials. A large majority of respondents (85%) in the study said they appreciate access to on-demand tools to support learning in the flow of work.

Download the report for more: Winning the Race to Digital Skills: The New Best Practices of Effective Learning.