The top five reasons why employees do not engage in learning and development

2 min read
16 Feb

Every time I talk to business leads or HR managers about developing much-needed competencies, we hit the same topic: people are not learning. It seems to be the most challenging task in every company to get people interested in learning and self-driven development. Why is this so hard?

Companies rely on employees to learn constantly

Companies rely on employees who continuously learn. Jobs are changing faster than ever, new roles emerge, and new technologies require people to develop skills that complement technology - instead of competing with technology.

Investment in learning has not paid dividends yet

Companies have invested significant amounts of money into the development of people and removed the main bottlenecks:

  • High-quality content is available for every topic we can imagine 
  • Learning content is accessible anytime and anywhere thanks to online services 
  • Companies use the latest technology (e.g. Learner Experience Systems) to lower the entry hurdle for learners and to help people to discover content that might be relevant to them

However, success is questionable. Many L&D managers report an initial spike in uptake of learning activity that then quickly reverts to normal.  

Why people don’t learn

It seems like companies have taken all the right steps when it comes to learning: new systems, investment in content, ease of access, and other aspects. What other factors are preventing people from learning?


A survey - conducted mid-2019 in Sydney and Melbourne amongst n=109 HR, OD and learning professionals -  hints at the main reasons why employee engagement in self-directed learning lacks:

  1. No time to learn: Employees do not have enough time allocated to engage in learning. We have to acknowledge that most learning happens on the job, in an informal setting. But if employees want to learn something fundamentally new, they lack time to engage in meaningful learning activities.

  2. People do not know what to learn: Despite having easy access to content, most people lack the understand what to learn and to what depth. Often people receive little direction on what they should learning. Development plans are often showing blanket statements, and little guidance is available from official company resources.

  3. People lack purpose: Why should I learn something new? Most people cannot answer the question and how acquiring a new competency would relate to their job and ultimately their purpose.

  4. Managers still perceive learning as a cost: This is where the corporate mindset and the mindset that every leader needs to change. People capability is for many industries, the main “production factor”. Not investing in learning or avoiding the cost of education is similar to depleting a companies resources.

  5. Learning does not get measured: Most companies encourage learning but do not measure the engagement of learning activities. What gets measured, gets done seems to be true for learning, too. Companies need to think about learning / self-development related success measures.

There is no time to lose

I think it is safe to say that in most cases, the lethargy we experience around self-paced learning in the corporate environment is not the result of a lack of content, technology or accessibility. It is the result of an organisational setting and practices that at best, do not encourage people to learn and in the worst case, prevent people from learning.

Business leaders and HR Department need to reconsider what changes they can make and what behaviours they want to encourage to enable an environment in which people continuously learn. There is no time to waste. We cannot solve the skills gap we are facing with an endless series of organised and prescribed learning interventions. 

What will be your first step to enable an environment that promotes self-driven learners?

* The email will not be published on the website.