2015 Annual Learning Survey Results

Posted by on Sep 23 2015

In late 2015, I conducted a Learning Survey of small business owners and solo entrepreneurs to determine how their learning preferences had changed since the last time I conducted the survey (in 2013).

1,816 small business owners and solo entrepreneurs completed the survey. You can download the PDF results summary report here.

I hope you find this information helpful in understanding your students and how they like to learn.

I don’t think there’s anything more important in the world than teaching others what you know and empowering them to use that knowledge to have a better personal and professional life. Keep teaching!

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51 comments for now

51 Responses to “2015 Annual Learning Survey Results”

  1. Karyn, what a great report! Thank you for compiling the results. What jumped out for me is that it is a good thing to have a book. And I a huge fan of sending pdf files to Staples and getting them bound into a coil-binding book. I do it with almost everything I get because I am still a paper girl!!

    Cheers, Andrea

    21 Dec 2011 at 10:22 pm

  2. Karyn Greenstreet

    Even in this day and age, Andrea, people seem to like to read physical books, especially around business and marketing topics. It’s not like fiction, where once you read it, you’re done with the book. Business books become part of your reference library. I know I highlight my books, making notes in the margins, and putting sticky tabs on pages that are important.

    22 Dec 2011 at 9:36 am

  3. This is great Karyn. I think the bottom line is to provide different training methods for different types of learners. I was happy to see that many people prefer to have self-paced with support from the teacher, as this is my preferred way of teaching my programs. Many thanks for sharing!

    22 Dec 2011 at 12:24 am

  4. Karyn Greenstreet

    I prefer self-paced learning myself, Cindy. The trick is keeping students motivated to get through all the material. It’s easy to procrastinate and/or feel overwhelmed when you control the pace of your learning.

    22 Dec 2011 at 9:39 am

  5. Karyn — This was an incredibly helpful report. Thank you so much. As a writer and reader of “old-fashioned books,” I was happily surprised at the results. I’m going to be keeping these results in mind as I plan my business.

    22 Dec 2011 at 11:35 am

  6. Karyn Greenstreet

    I’m so happy it was helpful to you, Carol. From time to time, we need to ask our customers and students what they prefer as far as delivery of our solutions. I love how some things change, and others stay just the same! 🙂

    22 Dec 2011 at 12:27 pm

  7. Hi Karyn

    Thanks so much for sharing this valuable information – it was such an interesting read. As someone who’s core business is training workshops your report confirmed hard facts and figures to something that I’d been seeing for a while… people like the interaction of webinars and being able to see their teacher, but they also appreciate self-paced learning too.

    Over the past 12 months I’ve been moving away more and more from teleclasses into webinars and livestream events. And I shall be adding teaching videos to my offerings this spring too.

    22 Dec 2011 at 11:51 am

  8. Karyn Greenstreet

    Sounds like a great plan, Tracey. In instructional design, we have a concept called Blended Learning, where you mix up delivery methods to give the students the best of all worlds. Sounds like what you’re doing!

    22 Dec 2011 at 12:28 pm

  9. Great report and data collecting Karyn! I offer one-on-one coaching and blog/ebook. It’s great to read all the ways people learn best and how it may change with technology and economy. My take away is blend what people want with your business plan, and keep updating.

    22 Dec 2011 at 3:41 pm

  10. Karyn Greenstreet

    You hit the nail on the head, Marci…keep updating, keep asking customers what they prefer. 🙂

    23 Dec 2011 at 11:18 am

  11. Robert Goodwyn

    Excellent Reporting!
    You put your finger right on the pulse of the learning world. This information will utilized in future formation of trainings I will be using in the coming year. Yes, I printed off a copy for highlighting the “hot” points for me. Hands on still seems to be the popular method of learning, coupled with reading.
    Good job!

    24 Dec 2011 at 9:16 am

  12. Karyn Greenstreet

    Thanks, Robert. In the end analysis, people’s learning preferences are tied directly to the topic. For instance, most people would rather learn auto mechanics or bread baking in a hands-on environment, right? 🙂

    24 Dec 2011 at 10:58 am

  13. Karyn,
    I wonder about self-report accuracy. I find people may say they like learning by reading but then actually learn best by doing. Like riding a bike. All the books in the world will not teach you how to ride a bike.

    However, it tells me a lot about how to market a service or product.


    01 Jan 2012 at 10:33 pm

  14. Karyn Greenstreet

    Hi, Brenda,

    When I created the survey questions, I asked how they prefer to learn, not how they learn best. Many adults don’t have a mechanism to tally how they learn best, except their years of experience learning new information. But they certainly know how they *prefer* to learn and absorb new information/skills. Sometimes their preference has more to do with their schedule than with the way they learn best. Busy people fit in learning where they can, which may not be optimal, but is practical.

    In this way, as content providers and teachers, we can offer them learning in the delivery method(s) they prefer. Then it’s up to us, as good instructional designers and teachers, to do everything we can to facilitate learning and offer an opportunity to put learning into practice. It’s up to the adult student to actually implement what they’ve learned.

    Also, this survey was geared towards small business owners, and they were asked how they prefer to learn business and marketing topics. Each teacher should conduct a similar survey of their students to ask how they prefer to learn topic related to what the teacher offers. I would imagine that yoga students would answer quite differently than marketing students. 🙂

    01 Jan 2012 at 11:55 pm

  15. Karyn,

    Thank you so much for sharing this great information. The book vs ebook findings were interesting. I wanted to share a personnel insight that may or may not be of interest in future surveys. I answered that I preferred books over ebooks. However, I had an ongoing discussion with myself the whole time because I definitely prefer a paper book to a pdf on the computer but I am actually reading a lot more now on my Kindle Fire. The books on Kindle are ebooks but I actually feel that they are “books” instead. Would love to see if a third category of changes the preference. THANKS! again.

    08 Jan 2012 at 12:44 pm

  16. Karyn Greenstreet

    Shawndra, when I look at the open format responses, only a few people mention Kindle or e-readers. Several people mention that even if they purchase an ebook (PDF), they print it out in order to read it and highlight it. Whether you choose to publish your book in print form or ebook form is a business strategy decision. You would need to ask your own audience which reading method they prefer. Or, offer both formats and see what they actually purchase.

    09 Jan 2012 at 10:10 am

  17. Thanks, Karyn, for your research and report – and congratulations on polling over 27000 survey respondents.

    I agree with your recommendation that we always check out our specific customers’ preferences, since we are fortunate today in having so many affordable and do-able options for teaching and communicating.

    Perhaps in the “best of all possible worlds,” whether we’re in a room together or virtually connecting, we will use words AND pictures/visuals AND some “state changes” and interactions so everyone can get up, talk, and move.

    Something would be bound to stick then!

    I once had an economics teacher who taught us using words, charts and illustrations, and equations – he announced at the beginning of the course we could use any of the three to demonstrate our understanding of the course concepts in our exams. One way or another, he made sure we learned what to him was the world’s most fascinating subject. I’ve never forgotten his consideration and genuine interest in helping us learn and use the material.

    21 Jun 2012 at 7:03 pm

  18. Karyn Greenstreet

    That sounds like a very creative and enlightened economics teacher, Marcy! I wish mine had been that interesting. 🙂 The only thing I remember from economics class is “the propensity to consume.” 😉

    22 Jun 2012 at 8:18 am

  19. Hi Karyn,
    I’ll echo those who say this is really useful information.

    One of the things I wanted to know was basically answered by the self paced questions.
    Recently, I took an online course and it was on a drip out over time process. The instructors said it was because if you give all the info at once, people don’t do it. And I’m sure that is true to an extent because many of us never finish whether it’s a book or course.

    However, I’m not sure that really fits into the idea of “self-paced”. I recently did a tiny poll of all at once vs. drip and of the handful of responses I did get, all at once was preferred so that does lean toward a selfpaced idea.

    As a writing and publishing coach, it was also nice to see that the doomsday prophets of the death of books aren’t entirely accurate-at least not yet 🙂

    17 May 2013 at 4:47 pm

  20. Karyn Greenstreet

    Thank goodness books aren’t dead yet, Cheryl. I have a stack I’ve been wanting to read! LOL

    To me, self-paced means exactly that: the student has access to all the class material and she learns it at her own paced. I wouldn’t call dripped content “self-paced.” Many students find that dripped content holds them back when they’re ready to go forward. But from a teacher’s perspective, dripping the content means you know which lesson the class is on at any given time.

    My feeling is that the people we teach are adults. Let them learn at the pace THEY want. And follow-up with them to keep them motivated and focused.


    17 May 2013 at 4:59 pm

  21. Thank you, Karyn, for sharing this information. I’m just in the process of getting back to coaching, but I work 50 hours at a “regular job” that I also love. Now I’m motivated to find someone to help me convert my webinars and teleclasses to self paced learning. Very exciting! I truly appreciate the service you’ve provided. Mickie

    17 May 2013 at 9:52 pm

  22. Karyn Greenstreet

    It sounds like you can have the best of both worlds, Mickie! Welcome back to the world of coaching and I wish you the best success in converting your webinars and teleseminars to self-paced learning. Bravo!

    18 May 2013 at 11:49 am

  23. Karyn, this is an awesome report with answers to just about every question I have had about how to make the ecourses I offer more useful and interesting to my subscribers. Some of my daily mailing ecourses have been converted into downloadable and printable pdf manuals, but lack an engagement factor. With more than 60 courses, I have my work cut out for me and I can’t wait to get started – Thanks for your generosity in sharing the results of your poll.

    18 May 2013 at 9:26 am

  24. Karyn Greenstreet

    I’m so pleased, Richard, that the survey results gave you a bit of motivation to move forward on your projects. Sixty courses is a lot of work, but it’s one course at a time, eh? 🙂

    18 May 2013 at 11:53 am

  25. Jeannie Guillot


    First, thank you oodles and bundles for undertaking AND sharing this wonderful, clear and useful survey! It is incredibly generous of you to use your resources and time to do this survey and then, make the results available to the rest of us. Kudos and my deepest awe and appreciation!

    Second, thank you, for you have even “digested” the information for us, and given us some very strong clues on “what it means” for us trainers, presenters, coaches, so we can plan and strategize and act accordingly.

    And third, having come from a long training background (like you), I know that people learn best how to DO behaviors when they learn LIVE and practice it with accurate feedback. . . However, as you said, you didn’t ask them HOW they learn best, but what they PREFER most in their learning. Sooo, I guess it behooves us to respond to their preferences, and then, put as much sensory learning, practice and interaction, into any one specific learning choice as it can contain in that modality.

    Humongous appreciation,

    19 May 2013 at 12:39 pm

  26. Karyn Greenstreet

    You’re welcome Jeannie!

    And you’re right…people will tell you how they prefer to learn (or at least, how they prefer to introduce themselves to a topic). But a multi-sensory approach offers the best of all worlds, because learning is not the same thing as mastering, which takes practice and the ability to ask questions of the instructor.

    From a marketing standpoint, however, it’s a hard sell to tell someone that they learn best through these multiple channels. That can feel overwhelming to them. So, offer them the education in the way they prefer, and make sure YOU incorporate some of the other modalities into the learning to give them the fullest experience possible.

    Best of success to you,

    19 May 2013 at 1:50 pm

  27. Yonica Pimentel

    The data speaks for itself, and I am relieved to know that books are still cool! I have my smart phone and laptop, but nothing beats a book. I am currently enrolled in online classes and I struggle with staying connected. I have to order my books instead of reading the e-books because they are almost useless for me. Fortunately, the college provides videos as well, which helps tremendously.

    Technology is great, but it is too disconnected for me.

    Thanks for sharing.

    20 May 2013 at 1:00 pm

  28. Karyn Greenstreet

    I’m so happy that books are still cool, too, Yonica. Even though I have a Kindle and use it for reading fiction, when it comes to reading non-fiction (especially biz books), I prefer a book I can highlight, tape flag, write comments in the margins. I know I can do those things with my Kindle, but the experience isn’t the same.

    I find that colleges often provide their ebooks in PDF format…hundreds and hundreds of pages. I think a PDF ebook can be effective if it’s short and designed well. But 500 pages? Too hard to work with. (Better to take the PDF to Staples and have it printed!)


    20 May 2013 at 1:22 pm

  29. Karen,
    Thank you – this is so informative and a really useful steer.
    How do you think your sample varies from managers and other employees from the corporate world in terms of their learning consumption styles? (if at all?)
    Best wishes,

    20 May 2013 at 1:45 pm

  30. That’s a good question, Sandra. As you know, most of the people who took the survey were business owners. But they are also adults with the same wants and needs to learn quickly and effectively as any corporate employee. I’m not sure how it is in the U.K., but in the USA the growth of things like online learning is exponential.

    Some corporations are money-sensitive during tough economic times; others are not. So employees and managers may say they prefer to learn through live workshops in their offices because the company has historically been willing to pay for such things.

    The best advice I can give you is: ask your audience how THEY like to learn, then compare your results to the results in the report.

    20 May 2013 at 2:01 pm

  31. Thanks for posting this info! As a former instructor and owner of a computer training company through out the 1990s, it’s interesting to see how customers’ preferences have changed.

    I would have liked to see a little slicing and dicing by demographic, as I wonder how much of this is varies by the age (and perhaps the gender) of the learner.

    My personal preferences for learning are on-line, on-demand, for the ability to schedule it around my own convenience, and also to replay the parts I may be having trouble understanding, and past the parts I already know.

    Adding in a community through a forum allows you to dig into the finer points that are sometimes missing in a class.

    Books are great for subjects that aren’t so fast-changing, but its hard to beat the up to the minute possibilities of an online platform.

    20 May 2013 at 2:02 pm

  32. Hi, Bruce,

    It may vary by age and gender of survey participant, but we didn’t ask those questions because we felt that people would resist taking the survey if they had to give too much “personal” information. We did ask how long they had been a business owner, which *may* indicate age. When I compare results based on how long they have been a business owner, self-paced learning with access to an instructor still comes up #1 across the board, as does reading a physical book.

    But tied for #1 with reading a book is hands-on practice for the new business owner, but not for the seasoned business owner. This may relate more to the seasoned business owner feeling confident that they can apply it themselves, whereas the new business owner wants much more practice before using a new skill or new knowledge set.

    And new business owners are slightly less willing to go to a live workshop, which I found interesting. Could it be because they felt they couldn’t afford it? Or that it would go too fast for them to keep up?

    I smell another survey in the works! 🙂


    20 May 2013 at 2:14 pm

  33. Karyn, this is fantastic info. Thank you for compiling and sharing this. Much appreciated.

    Being a bit of a survey geek I’m curious about a couple of things…

    First, did you randomize the list of possible responses? For example, in questions two and three, “reading a physical book” is at the top of the list. This can significantly influence the data as some people will always click the first choice.

    Second, I’m curious if you tried grouping the responses based on demographics like “years in business” vs. “not a business owner”. Also, have you’ve ever considered asking for income level and grouping the responses based on that? I’ve found out that income level impacts entrepreneurial thinking and decision preferences more than years in business.

    Perhaps these could be additional questions in your 2014 survey? 😉

    Again, thanks for doing this and sharing the info. Much gratitude to you!

    20 May 2013 at 2:41 pm

  34. Hi, Adam,

    I considered randomizing the list, but also wanted people to be able to compare “groups” of similar learning delivery methods, like “reading a physical book” compared to “reading an ebook.” I was always taught that grouping answers on multiple choice surveys facilitated the participant, yet there’s a possible bias towards the first choice. It was a toss-up about which statistical survey approach to take. However, for those who are taking the survey after May 17, I randomized the choices to see if there was any statistical difference.

    I have cross-tabulated responses based on years in business, and the results are similar, though not completely parallel. For instance, new business owners indicate a higher preference for hands-on learning than seasoned business owners. I could postulate the psychology about “why” that is, but perhaps that’s better left for another survey? 🙂

    I definitely looked at “not a business owner” compared to “business owner” and the results are nearly identical. The only difference: “Not a business owner” used technology less than business owners, except for smartphones where they were equal. I’m not surprised by that result: business owners need to rely on technology, and though they are not always 100% comfortable with it, they still attempt to use it and master it to enhance their biz. The survey was geared towards entrepreneurs and small business owners, so it was their results I was most interested in.

    In this survey, we were looking for a 95% confidence level with a +/- 1 interval. With a sample size of 2,718 that gives us the survey stat goals we were looking for, at least overall. With that said, the results are skewed because the people who took the survey were highly-motivated to take surveys (self-selection). But participants told us that simply sharing their thoughts was enough for many of them; the fact that there were free bonuses awaiting those who completed the survey didn’t effect a portion of the population. Of course there are biases we all have in how we answer survey questions based on our self-perception, and the proof always comes down to this: Does your audience take action and buy when you make them an educational offer?

    And I think it’s hugely important for all business owners to ask their *own* audience what educational delivery methods they prefer. I can’t imagine that yoga instructor or Tai Chi instructor would get the same results as a website design instructor.

    As you know, it’s always a trick to create a short enough survey so that people will take it without feeling overwhelmed, and a long enough survey with good cross-tab questions to make the data worthwhile. I’m thinking of doing a more psychology-based one next, to get to the Why’s of the matter. Sometimes I wish I weren’t so curious about what makes people tick! LOL


    20 May 2013 at 3:03 pm

  35. Hello Karyn,

    Great job. This is so helpful.

    Regards from London

    22 May 2013 at 2:16 pm

  36. Karyn Greenstreet

    Thanks, Michael, I’m glad you found it helpful. Any insight into how your customers think and what they want is always valuable.


    22 May 2013 at 2:38 pm

  37. Teri Shilling

    I appreciate the insight you have provided and found myself saying “this is great” while I was reading through it….UNTIL I got to the page on learning styles saying that 60% were visual etc. I have seen so much that has proven that learning styles are a bit of a myth. What is the source for the % you quote?
    I also was impressed that you are such a forward thinker that you copyrighted the info for 2103!

    23 May 2013 at 12:05 pm

  38. Karyn Greenstreet

    Hi, Teri,

    There is plenty of discussion on both sides of this topic. However, people often DO have a preferred way they like to learn information, which was the question we were asking in this survey.

    It doesn’t mean it’s the ONLY way they can learn information, just a bias or leaning towards one learning delivery method over another. That’s why I asked both Question 2 and Question 3, to show that people learn in multiple ways, but when asked to state their preferred way, they are willing to do so.

    You can also look at this study for more information, “Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence” from the Department of Psychology at the University of California.


    They say: “Our review of the literature disclosed ample evidence that children and adults will, if asked, express preferences about how they prefer information to be presented to them.”

    The discussion of learning styles in my report is intended to help show that people have a preference for one (or more) learning styles over others. Some people adore listening to audios, while others prefer to learn with an instructor, and still others prefer to sit quietly with a book. I was not advocating that any teacher of adults should assess each student and tailor training for that particular student; only that teachers should be aware that students learn using multiple senses and some have strong preferences for one sense over another.

    By honoring how student prefer to learn, we don’t force them to learn in ways that are awkward to them. I’m not saying that someone who prefers to read can’t learn by watching a video. That’s why I advocate that we have as many teachers and training materials as possible about any given topic: then the student can learn the way she wants to, not only based on her learning style preference, but her financial situation, her time availability, and the speed at which she wants to learn.

    You can read the arguments pro and con for learning styles here:


    And direct citations for the 60% visual learners can be found here:


    (Or just do an internet search on the phrase “learning styles 60% visual” and look for .edu College and University websites where there have been studies performed on the topic.)

    23 May 2013 at 2:23 pm

  39. Teri

    I have no problem with looking at people’s learning preferences. That is legit. But the science is not there regarding learning styles. If you search the phrase “learning styles myth” and look for the .edu websites you’ll see why so many are now calling learning styles a myth.

    Thanks for being open to this discussion.

    26 May 2013 at 12:15 am

  40. Pacaw Ebnia

    Many thanks for doing this survey, Karyn, and publishing the results for us. When I took the survey I had to ask myself if there were ways I liked to learn and ways I didn’t like to learn. I had not thought about it before.

    I often go to the library to get a book on a topic especially when I am first introduced to the topic. It sinks in with me if I can read things slowly and understand. Sometime classes go too fast for me and I like to be able to ask the instructor questions to make sure my brain is receiving the information and I can do something with the information in my own business.

    I have not taken a web-based training class yet, but I would probably like it, too, because I could take my time.

    Thank you for sharing this, Karyn, I appreciate it.


    26 May 2013 at 10:16 am

  41. Karyn Greenstreet

    Yes, Pacaw, I like books and self-study classes for the same reason as you do. I need time to digest information and often I only have an hour a day to “study” so I have to be able to go at my own pace.


    05 Jun 2013 at 8:53 am

  42. Caro McVitie

    Thank you, this is an interesting report.

    I don’t know that I learn “best” by audio but in a practical sense it’s what I have time for during my week. I’m a busy business owner and the only time I have to learn is walking the treadmill at the gym. So I bring my iPod with me and listen to recordings of classes while I walk, and that’s my best time to learn.

    26 May 2013 at 12:15 pm

  43. Camilla

    Thank you Karyn! What a great job!

    Best wishes from Sweden

    01 Jun 2013 at 10:29 am

  44. Karyn Greenstreet

    You’re welcome, Camilla! 🙂

    01 Jun 2013 at 10:45 am

  45. […] out how people really like to learn in the results of Karyn Greenstreet’s 2013 Learning Survey. You may be […]

    04 Jun 2013 at 9:11 am

  46. Karyn, this information is timely and it’s very important for businesses to understand that the preferences of their customers are key to the psychology of how,what, why and when they will buy.

    I appreciate you taking the time to pull this together!

    23 Sep 2015 at 4:07 pm

  47. Karyn Greenstreet

    You’re welcome, Tanya! We do, indeed, need to ask our customers what they want. 🙂

    23 Sep 2015 at 4:25 pm

  48. Karyn, your brand, Passion for Business, has great appeal. It grabs the essence of what is required for success in any business–passion. I know you don’t need my endorsement of your brand. ☺ However, I share my thinking because having read your 2015 Learning Survey I am prompted to enhance your brand. You clearly have a “Passion for Service!” You can be so proud of the information you have shared in this survey. Thank you.

    23 Sep 2015 at 4:28 pm

  49. Karyn Greenstreet

    Thanks so much, Gary, it’s always (always!) great to hear that I’m walking my talk. I hope you found the info in the report helpful for your own business.

    23 Sep 2015 at 4:50 pm

  50. Thank you for sharing this great info! For a geek like me, this is super helpful. I’ve taught live for years and very comfortable with it. Now shifting to online education and gobbling up all the helpful info I can find. This is timely and very well presented. Blessings on your work!

    17 Oct 2015 at 5:46 pm

  51. Karyn Greenstreet

    You’re welcome, Kelly. Shifting from live to online education takes a bit of retraining and rethinking of your class material. But most live class lesson plans can be “converted” to the online world with a little creativity (and a bunch of technology!).

    21 Oct 2015 at 10:06 am

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