According to the 2010 State of the Industry Report from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) – which collected data from 304 companies, with an average of 13,728 employees – $126bn was spent on employee learning and development in the US in 2009. Of this $126bn, some two-thirds ($78.61bn) was spent on the internal learning function and the remaining $47.27bn went to external services.

Other findings from the report include:

* Total expenditure was down some 6.1% from the 2008 figure of $134.07bn.

* Learning expenditures per employee averaged $1,081 – up 1.2% from 2008.

* Direct learning expenditures increased from 0.59% to 0.71% of revenue, and from 8.75% to 10.88% of profit in 2009 – reflecting organisations’ steady financial commitment to learning even while profits and revenue decreased due to the recession.

* The average percentage of learning hours available through technology reached 36.5% – its highest recorded level – and 27.7% of all formal learning hours made available in 2009 were online

Comment: It’s ironic that learning expenditure per employee and the amount of e-learning both rose while the total expenditure on learning fell – and yet reducing the cost of training is one of the key arguments widely used to support the use of e-learning instead of classroom-based training.

$126bn is an impressive amount of money to spend on training – even in a country as large as the USA. Of course, the report can’t assess how much of this training effort was wasted – and it’s a safe bet that none of the money was spent on teaching Americans how to appreciate irony.