Online Learning For staff - If you haven't already, it's time to invest

12 May 2023

Catch 22? No, you don't have to go to work to get trained

The old mantra of  I can't get a job because I have no experience, and I can't get experience if I can't get a job has been diluted somewhat.

You take your driving theory test online before you take your physical driving test and you can even take a practice theory test online to check how much you’ve learnt.

Some employers are getting savvy about identifying how much can be done online prior to doing on site training.

However, there are some stark pitfalls that companies can fall into....

The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has far-reaching impacts, including in the health, economy, labor, and education sectors, to mention a few.

Embracing new technology plays a critical role in addressing this crisis as it facilitates remote work, communication, and online learning on an unprecedented scale.

Integration of collaborative tech into the learning space has a significant upside: easy and on-demand access to training materials from any device or location.

So we should have done this a long time ago....and lots of companies did.

Grappling with a huge shift

Human Resource Development HRD is experiencing a time of unprecedented rapid development of digital transformation.

Online training is viewed as a major resource in the provision of training to the workforce.

On paper, it appears to tick all the boxes

The advantages seem overwhelming once the resource is in place:


Employees have the flexibility to access the course at any time and from anywhere with an Internet connection and work at their own pace.


Online courses do not require travel, printers, or classroom rental.


Online training courses offer interactive and engaging learning experiences with content that can be kept current and stay on top of the latest trends in the industry.

Some companies have no choice other than to invest in online learning.

Some training is mandatory involving compliance issues, health, and safety without which an employee can not work and the company can not provide the service.

Online training is not new and historically the focus has always been on the course, structure, content, and making it intuitive.

Some companies have invested huge amounts of money in them in the firm belief that investment in training should be ongoing to reap the rewards that face-to-face training had previously yielded.

However, the emerging picture is that designing hybrid learning will become more important than ever, and Learning and development L&D professionals need to combine the flexibility of self-training and online resources with highly engaging live experiences. 

The Online Learning Curve - it's not pretty....

NB: During COVID-19 and the global lockdown, distance learning and eLearning became the only realistic learning option.

Of the few studies into the effectiveness of companies providing and relying upon online training courses for their workforce it concluded that management must not only invest money for course development and implementation but significantly, must invest additional funds for evaluation of training program success.

Regardless of the type of training an online course is focused upon it has to be managed.

It may be addressing competency, ensuring minimum product quality and service standards are met, product knowledge, customer care, sales development, team building, or management development.

The training intervention may address a specific need such as compliance and with that need, there must be a desired outcome within a given time frame to ensure mandatory training objectives, but also a return on investment ROI.


Dropout rates from online training courses are one of the biggest problems facing organisations when implementing online training. (Frankola, 2001)

In contrast, most trainees complete instructor-led classroom courses even if they are not satisfied with the course, therefore attrition in online training is a more significant problem than attrition in instructor-led classroom programs.

One of the few studies (O'Connor et al 2004) examining dropouts in organisational online training courses found that mandatory company completion policies were an important factor contributing to online course completion.

The O'Connor study surveyed 375 online learners via a web-based survey.

The survey found that personal motivation was the most reported factor leading to course completion followed by interesting learning, mandatory company completion policies, and online instructors' follow-up.

Many survey respondents reported that they dropped out of the course early when they thought they had learned what they needed to know for their job before the end of the course.

Those studies are ancient history, they can't apply nowadays

It would be nice to think so...

A more recent report on online attrition according to Class Central established that there were 110 million people in the world enrolled in online courses in 2019. 

In the world of Massive Open Online courses (MOOCs) providing access to Professional University Degrees, a survey analysing data over a period of 6 years to 2018 from all courses from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT and Harvard University taught on the EDX training platform includes data covering:

565 course iterations from 261 different courses and a combined 12.67 million course registrations from 5.63 million learners.

But 52% never even start.

  • Of those who register for a MOOC 52% never even enter the courseware
  • Most registrants leave soon after enrolment and attrition remains high in the first two weeks of the course and over a 5 year period the dropout reached 96%
  • Low completion rates have not improved over the six-year analysis period
  • Six years of investment in course development and learning research has not produced meaningful improvements in these figures.

Online Training - A case study and lessons learnt.

Let's add a little perspective to the statistics.

First of all the MOOC university courses are not company courses, but represent years of diligent study ahead.

In this day and age, of low attention spans and the desire for instant gratification, a 3 to 5-year online course relying solely on one's own motivation is a challenge in self-discipline alone.

Effectiveness of Company Online Learning Portals

There does not seem to be much available research in the way of the effectiveness of company online training, much less that where the company is happy to disclose their shortfalls.

However, one such case study on the introduction of online training to replace that of the classroom gives some pertinent insights.

First some background:

The case study is based on a successful landscaping company operating in the USA that has been in existence for over 100 years and has expanded to a workforce of 500 spread over many locations.

The company culture embraced classroom education and training and also had an institute dedicated to research and the development of innovations in the sector of forestry, agronomy, and horticulture.

As the company grew geographically the logistics of classroom training became unrealistic and so the company implemented an online learning platform providing employees with five different courses that took between 3 and 8 hours to complete:

  • Introduction to Horticulture
  • Landscaping and Grounds Maintenance
  • Lawn Care
  • Line Clearance
  • Management
  • Practical Tree Care
  • Tree Care.

The online training courses were open to all company employees and enrolment was completely voluntary. 

The company encouraged employees to pursue training but there were no job-related rewards or recognition for course completion.

Lesson Comprehension Test

Courses took between 3 and 8 hours to complete and each course had a quiz of between 10 and 25 questions at the end of each lesson.

Before continuing to the next lesson, the system parameters required trainees to achieve a 70% pass mark in the quiz, but allowed them to retake the quiz as many times as they needed to, whilst providing constant access to all previous course material.

Online Training Platform Evaluation

After 10 years of being online, the decision was taken to assess the effectiveness of the platform.

The course development incorporated many user-friendly features and was comprehensive even by today's standards.

It included a glossary of terms, links, and references to external resources to gain further content on topics, a bookmark facility allowing trainees to log off between lessons and resume the same place when they logged back on, in addition to a course and lesson progress indicator on the home page.

The assessment revealed that over the 14-month observation period, only 21% of employees who enrolled in the course completed it.

An investigation was launched to see what contributed to such a high rate of attrition which included surveys being despatched to 188 people including non-participants.

The website had come into existence in the days of the dial-up modem and for that reason, though it did have images, short videos, and illustrations, it was largely text-based to ensure that employees could download the content quickly.
(Images and video could take an age to load on the page using a 56k dial-up modem) 

The Usual Suspects

  • Computer anxiety
  • Content
  • Course Structure
  • Technology
  • Relevance to content being able to improve their performance

Course content, navigation, and an over-complex environment were lined up for scrutiny with the survey taking 5 graded responses ranging from "I strongly agree" to "I strongly disagree" to each question; an example of computer anxiety being:

"I have avoided computers because I don't understand them"

The core information being sought was reasons for not starting and reasons for not completing.

There was a concern that maybe participants were unaware of the book marking facility and they had to go back to the beginning of the course if they logged out.

The survey response generated only a 10.8% response out of the 188 requests.

When asked for reasons for not starting or completing the course, the majority of reasons were concerned with time constraints ranging from being overloaded at work, to being unable to find time when not at work, with the following being some of the actual responses:

Reasons for not starting the course


  • I underestimated all things in my life so I never got to the course
  • I have just moved and now getting settled in
  • I have too many new responsibilities at work
  • Not sure how to enroll in the course

Reasons for not completing the course


  • Work
  • Time, and generally to do work on breaks I am busy now but trying to finish.
  • I have been working out of state and it's hard to find extra time.
  • Just finding time to sit down to read it and understand it.
  • My computer has not been reliable
  • Work and family obligations/Time constraints
  • When I return home from work I spend time with my eight-month-old daughter until she goes to bed at 8 PM and then usually go to bed shortly after.
  • I had a baby and bought a new house
  • I had some personal issues, my mother and mother-in-law died

Motivation related

  • I forgot I was doing it
  • Nothing I need to apply myself in the new future and finish

Everyday life was just getting in the way.

However, all of the trainees who were still in the company did state that they would finish the course eventually.

Twelve of the respondents stated strongly or very strongly that the course content was relevant to their job and eleven stated that the course would help them improve their job performance.

From this and other assessments came the following recommendations:

1. Allow trainees time to complete training at work, as with perhaps the best intentions, real life and responsibilities outside of work compromised that intent, as well as an observation that people with greater workloads and who would most benefit from the coursework could not find the time.

2. Managers should show interest in employee training:

For example, (Guthrie and Schwartz 1994) found that managers who supported training influenced trainees' perceptions of the value of training.

That is, trainees were less likely to be motivated to take on and complete training programmes if their manager did not believe the training would make a difference in their work-related behaviour.

3. Managers should hold trainees accountable for completing the training program ideally with the trainee providing a written training plan that would clarify training goals and support the trainee's commitment to complete the plan.

Simply setting a completion date will motivate trainees to organise and schedule themselves to support course completion.

4. Ensure that procedures are clear and unambiguous in respect of enrolment and how to progress through the course to completion.

5. Have an identified person to contact for support.

6. Establish an evaluation process to monitor and identify the success of the training programme. 


The buck stops here

It could be argued that Point 6 is the most relevant or essential point, without which the other most valid and excellent recommendations are compromised.

The objective of the training is the goal, whether it is for compliance purposes, health and safety at work, staff productivity, team-building, management and leadership development, and all the very good things both tangible and intangible.

However, or but, there is always a but....

Hands up if you have ever been fortunate enough to have enough staff to run the operation or been a member of staff delivering a product or service with optimum manpower.....consistently.

Wasn't it great! The Dream Team

What is optimum staff or manpower?

If it was solely based on a headcount of X, then that leaves questionable variables.

What factors might influence productivity, speed of service, product quality or standards of service to the required specification and on schedule?

How does, training, leadership, teamwork, collaboration, commitment and talent impact on that headcount?

If you have fabulously talented staff working as a team intent on providing a premium service or product delivered with pride and assurance would the headcount vary?

If the headcount of X remained the same, and it became too easy for that excellent team to deliver, would there be an impact on motivation (boredom?), or even turnover of staff seeking new challenges?

If the headcount was lowered as a result of team excellence, and then for whatever reason one of the team members left,(holidays, parental leave) would that compromise the performance of the rest of the team even if the member was replaced?

We won't get into the nitty-gritty of what constitutes enough staff-but suffice to say that well trained staff perform much better than untrained staff.

But back to manpower levels and the relevance of point 6, is that when being short staffed for whatever reason, becomes a norm, the value of self certification of mandatory online learning becomes suspect.

And the following can become a box-ticking exercise for a member of staff to appease a manager who is also under pressure to achieve targets, which in itself becomes a box-ticking exercise.

"I the undersigned hereby confirm that I have completed this module and have read and understood and am fully aware etc etc etc"

Given that signatures of the above, in many cases acknowledge an acquired competence by the signatory, and more importantly, a responsibility to act in a given way to ensure standards of operation are complied with and failure to do so may bring unwanted consequences in the short and the long term to the operation, the individual and the individual's line manager.


It's undeniable that Online training offers advantages in terms of convenience, cost-effectiveness, and accessibility and can contribute towards and in some cases the entirety of a training requirement.
However, companies must also address challenges such as high attrition rates and effective course management.

By implementing the recommendations mentioned and continuously evaluating and improving their training programs, companies can harness the benefits of online training and ensure their workforce is equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge for the success of the business.

Now, with the advent of driverless cars, it may be that the theoretical driving test is the only one that you will need to take.