10 Common Corporate eLearning Mistakes

Jill W.

According to the Harvard Business Review, only a quarter of respondents to a recent survey on corporate training "believe that training measurably improved performance." That's disheartening news for those of us in the industry. How should we react? We could stick our heads in the sand and carry on as usual, or we could take a serious look at what's wrong with the current situation and what we can do to make it better. Today, we'll make a small start by reviewing some common, but avoidable, mistakes in corporate training.

We always want our learners to be engaged and interested and to apply what they've learned when they return to their jobs. Most learners would like that too. Yet it's remarkably easy to turn them off, converting engagement and curiosity into disenchantment and discouragement. Not that it's surprising, if they encounter mistakes like those that follow.

1. Targeting the wrong audience (or not targeting any particular audience)

You wouldn't teach the importance of regular handwashing to a group of medical students the same way you would to a kindergarten class. Just imagine how well your learning event would be received if you tried! While the diversity of corporate audiences may be less extreme, there are still important differences. Effective training must take learner characteristics into account.

Before beginning to develop your learning content, define your audience by asking questions like:

  • What is the audience's level (or range of levels) of computer literacy?
  • How much experience do they have in this field, and what do they already know about it?
  • How much formal education do they have?
  • What is their fluency in the language of instruction?
  • What is the corporate culture like? For example, will a casual rather than a formal approach to the material seem more accessible or will it be less credible, costing you buy-in?

2. Relying on or including outdated material

Relying on material that learners don't need to know will certainly prevent training from improving performance, and even a smaller proportion of outdated material will generally be recognized by learners who will quickly tune out the rest of the course.

When creating a new learning program, have your subject matter experts (SMEs) check the material for currency.

For existing material, as well as responding to program changes that are brought to your attention, it can be helpful to develop a regular review cycle. SMEs will again be your best resource in keeping content up to date. Have them assess your learning program annually, and ensure you respond to their recommendations by making necessary revisions.

3. Including unnecessary material

Have you ever worked with a SME who was so excited about their area of expertise that they wanted to tell trainees all there was to know about their field? Their enthusiasm is nice to see, but it's the job of the expert in learning and development to rein them in. You can't expect all your learners to be equally enthralled with the topic; they'll respond best to content that is clearly relevant to them and their job.

Around here, we often talk about distinguishing the "need-to-know" from the "nice-to-know". Need-to-know material goes into the module, nice-to-know is cut, and who-cares-if-they-know is excised ruthlessly.

Unnecessary material can also include entire modules or courses. Just because a topic is relevant to someone's department doesn't mean it's necessary information for their job role. eLearning and learning paths are most effective when personalized for each position.

4. Lacking clear goals and learning objectives

"[A] vague or underdeveloped learning objective will only lead to disorganized deliverables that miss the mark entirely." Adult learners want learning programs that are on target. They engage with the learning when they know exactly where and how it's going to benefit them, so make sure you tell them, show them, and keep on track.

Start by making sure everyone involved knows and agrees on the program goal. What should the training accomplish for the organization?

Next, build your learning objectives. Clearly state what learners will be able to do after completing the learning, and make sure it's something they want to be able to do.

Throughout content development, keep the learning objectives at the front of your mind so you can produce targeted, effective learning material.

5. No or poor quality assessments

Assessments can cue learners to take formal learning seriously. But to contribute to learning, assessments must be meaningful. There's an unfortunate tendency among some harried content developers to rely on assessment questions that test only learners' ability to remember the wording of the learning content. Effective assessments not only test memory, but enhance engagement by requiring learners to understand, analyze and apply what they have learned. If you want to learn more about how to write valuable assessments, read Building Meaningful eLearning Assessments.

6. Not getting, or not following up on, learner feedback

It's been said that "a great hack in designing your employee development program is asking your employees." When you have a question about the suitability of any element of your learning program, there are few people better able to help than the learners themselves. Ask about:

  • Missing or unnecessary information
  • Accessibility of the material: Is it pitched at the correct level? Do learners have the time or job supports necessary to allow them to focus on the learning?
  • Appropriateness of the assessments
  • Usefulness of the learning
  • Suggestions for improvement

Review feedback regularly, and whenever you find common themes or good ideas be sure to implement them.

7. Boring, text heavy eLearning

There's little that's less inspiring than opening a new eLearning module to be confronted by a wall of text, yet that's often what happens with corporate training. Spice up your eLearning with:

8. Developing an inaccessible eLearning program

A common complaint among learners is that they just don't have the time for training. It's a legitimate concern for many - who has the time they need to dedicate to training when they're expected to complete all their regular job duties as well? Help your learners find the time for training by:

  • Using microlearning where appropriate, so employees can complete segments in spare moments without loosing a large chunk of productive time
  • Emphasizing how the training will help them complete their job duties more efficiently
  • When a longer period of time must be dedicated to a learning event, arrange for absences with management

Technological accessibility also matters. eLearning should rank highly in ease-of-use. After all, you want your trainees to focus their attention on the learning content, not the skills required to access it.

9. Failing to advertise the value of the training

As mentioned earlier, adult learners want to know what they're going to get out of a training experience. And when training is consuming employee time and effort, managers want to know too.

Clear and well-communicated goals and learning objectives will help here, but the key question to answer is "What is this staff member required to accomplish in their position, and how does this course help them do so?"

10. Confining learning to an eLearning module

Our final corporate eLearning mistake may be the biggest one: limiting your conception of learning to something that occurs during a learning event. Learning that isn't applied is quickly forgotten. Research has shown that only about 20% of learners change their on-job behavior after a stand-alone learning event. To reach the other 80%, consider the value of continuous learning for your organization.


Today, we've looked at ten ways to improve corporate eLearning and engage learners, helping them to apply what they've gained on the job. But you can go further. If you're interested in transforming your approach to training, learn more about:

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Jill W.

Jill is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems with more than 10 years of experience researching, writing and designing effective learning materials. She is fascinated by the English language and enjoys the challenge of adapting her work for different audiences. After work, Jill continues to leverage her professional experience as she works toward the development of a training program for her cats. So far, success has not been apparent.