Felstead, Alan, Fuller, Alison, Unwin, Lorna, Ashton, David, Butler, Peter and Lee, Tracey (2005) Better learning, better performance: Evidence from the 2004 learning at work survey. NIACE, Ashford, UK. ISBN 978-1-86201-230-1

This report presents the main results to emerge from an innovative survey of how employees
learn at work. It is based on a survey of 1,943 employees interviewed about their jobs in a threeweek
period in February 2004. Its key findings are as follows:
• Despite the emphasis placed on training course attendance and the acquisition of
qualifications by policy-makers, both were lowly rated by our respondents in terms of their
helpfulness for improved work performance. One in four employees reported that training
courses were of little or no value in improving work performance and around one in three
thought that studying for qualifications had not helped them at work.
• Activities more closely associated with the workplace – such as doing the job, being shown
things, engaging in self-reflection and keeping one’s eyes and ears open – were reckoned to
provide more helpful insights into how to do the job better. Over half the sample thought
that learning by doing was the most effective means of improving work performance, with
90 per cent agreeing that they had picked up most of their skills through on-the-job
experience. This applies to all types of worker, but it is of particular relevance to those lower
down the occupational hierarchy.
• Working provides the most important source of learning once in a job. In other words, the
most effective classroom is often the workplace itself. Almost nine out of ten respondents
said that their job required them to learn new things and pass on tips to colleagues.
• Despite the hype surrounding the use of e-learning, half of those interviewed reported that
the Internet had been of no use whatsoever in helping them to improve their work
• The survey found that employees learn more when they are involved in organising, planning
and checking the quality of their own work.
• Good line management also enhances learning. Managers who offer better advice, are more
understanding, spend more time coaching and provide more counselling to those in their
charge are rewarded with more effective and productive staff.
The survey results should prompt policy-makers to look to the workplace as an importance site
of learning and encourage researchers to focus on the usefulness of work activities themselves
as effective sources of learning.

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