What to Do When Your Training Isn’t Working

Jill W.

There's a great sense of pride that comes from completing a new piece of training, and seeing your vision come to life. You worked your way through the documentation and standards, prepared drafts of storyboards with layers of revision, authored the content in software, developed the media and interactions and finally, you're done! You release your new training to the client base, whether that's the public or association members or staff. And then...nothing.

It's disheartening to pour your efforts into training development and then to find that the training just isn't working. That doesn't mean your efforts have gone to waste, though! Let's look at some of the common problems that might be happening and see what possible solutions are available.

Problem: No one is taking the training

Solution: This might be a difficult question to answer when you've invested your time and energy into creating beautiful courseware, but is the training necessary? Not everything lends itself well to an online training course; sometimes what's really needed is a simple job aid, a checklist, a short how-to video, or better tracking documentation. There are many types of content you can use aside from the typical eLearning course, and a simple downloadable PDF or video link may make more sense for the content you're providing. Consider your options before you create an eLearning course to avoid the demoralizing and costly mistake of developing training when something much simpler would do the job!

Sometimes, however, you've developed online training to meet a regulatory or contractual requirement and are being asked by your clients or superiors to determine why there is not much engagement. We have previously discussed ways you can combat the idea that people don't have time for training. Making sure that the training is concise can go a long way to getting learners to do their required courses, because it minimizes the time people need to take away from their regular duties. Including some interaction, like branching scenarios or a posting forum, will encourage people to participate because they will see that others are doing the same. Finally, keep it simple. Busy people don't want to have to install plug-ins or struggle with getting the course to function properly. Make sure it's intuitive and works on a variety of devices.

Problem: No one is finishing the training

Solution: We've all had the experience of starting something with good intentions but dropping off quickly when we discover it is difficult, boring, time-consuming or not what we expected. If you have learners sign up for your training and start strong, but drop off before they complete it, there are several things that could be going wrong.

We've spoken about registration drop-off (also known as attrition) before, and some ways you can reduce attrition in optional or voluntary courses. The first barrier to check for is your technical demands. If learners need to install new software, use a new device or learn a non-intuitive platform, they are far more likely to give up on the training. Secondly, make sure that the description paints an accurate portrait of the training. If you describe the course as covering a specific advanced skill or taking an estimated amount of time, check that you're accurate in your statements. Learners don't want to start an eLearning module and find it's taking them twice as long as described; they also don't want to find that the course content is way below or way above their level.

It's also valuable to track the point(s) where learners tend to drop off. Do they access the content but then not bother with the final quiz? Consider offering recognition, like certificates or Open Badges for completing it. Do they get partway through but stop at a particularly long or dense screen? Check out some of our previous posts for tips on how to make your eLearning more engaging and more current. Do they complete only certain modules or sections? Maybe your training should be broken into micro-learning, where specific small pieces of the content are available on demand rather than packaged as one large course. Understanding when and why your learners are dropping off goes a long way to narrowing your focus to the problem area so you can do something about it.

Problem: The training isn't getting results

Solution: If the intention of your training is to get people to change a process or a behaviour, they may complete the training and fully understand the content, and still struggle to put it into practice. If the training is to meet a safety, legal or regulatory requirement, this can be especially alarming. After all, it's not effective if it's forgotten as soon as the training is over! You want your learners to retain the information longer than through the final exam; you want it to stick. Beautifully-presented content with the latest technology and the clearest possible writing is not enough if learners can't or don't apply what they've learned.

One of the things most often left out of eLearning is the idea of letting learners practice what they've learned. When your training isn't making the necessary impact, ask yourself if this might be the problem. If a learner takes the course, how can they then apply what they've learned? Is it possible to create a simulation by using drill and practice activities? Could you use scenario-based training? Perhaps the new process or regulation needs to be summarized and then made available as a reference document. You want to see measurable behaviour, attitude or process changes, and this might require you to look beyond the final quiz and find ways to have the learner practice for themselves.


Your training may not be a hit right away, but just because you don't immediately see the desired results doesn't mean there's nothing you can do. Determining what problems you're facing with implementing the training will go a long way to helping you pick your next course of action and save your course from sitting on the shelf! There is a world of difference between an optional course that isn't attracting users and mandatory training that isn't helping staff improve their compliance with a new process. Identifying the specific problem you're seeing will help you find ways to solve the problem and get your training back on track.

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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.