According to a recent Software Advice Survey[*], the majority (68%) of employees currently work remotely at least part of the time. Considering this, businesses need an employee training and upskilling strategy that provides flexibility while still being effective—and that’s where e-learning comes in.
In addition to offering the flexibility today’s employees have come to expect, e-learning can benefit your business in other ways as well. But in order to make sure your e-learning program is a success, you need to prepare for the challenges that arise with this strategy. That means budgeting for new tech investments, creating an employee engagement plan, and embracing best practices for creating retainable e-learning courses—but more on that later on.
If you’re a training manager or a learning and development leader who is wary about incorporating e-learning into your employee training strategy, we’re here to instill confidence in you. Ahead, we’ll cover four challenges of e-learning for businesses and provide advice at every turn that will help you overcome them.
4 challenges of e-learning for businesses
The four challenges outlined ahead are the biggest hurdles businesses face when considering incorporating e-learning into their employee training strategy.
1. High cost of the initial software investment
Rolling out an e-learning program requires some upfront software investments. Most organizations use a learning management system (LMS) to enable e-learning, but others may opt for employee training software or a content management system depending on how extensive of a program they’re developing.
Both LMS and employee training software allow you to create courses and assign them to employees. In fact, some tools are listed in both categories on our website. However, content management systems are mostly used to organize and store course content (rather than create it).
How much a system costs depends on a few things, such as how many users you need to support and whether you opt for a perpetual license or a month-to-month subscription. Our LMS pricing guide breaks down the subscription cost ranges for three tiers of solutions: basic, premium, and advanced. For reference, the average premium-level option of an LMS platform can support between 100 and 999 users, and typically costs anywhere between $99 to $48,202 per month.
Regardless of which system(s) your organization decides to invest in, the fact remains that you’ll need to budget for initial and ongoing software costs, as well as plan out how you will measure the return on investment (ROI) of your e-learning program.
How to overcome this challenge:
Work with your chief information officer or the executive who oversees your organization’s tech spending to set a budget and determine whether it makes sense to pay a high cost at the outset through perpetual licensing, go month-to-month with a subscription, or keep costs low with an open source LMS.
When it comes to demonstrating the ROI of your e-learning program, Matty Hogarth, the learning and development manager at Indeed Flex has some thoughts:
“In the learning tech space, people often talk about views or engagement or pieces of content created. Great, but none of that tells you anything about whether your people are now better at their jobs.”
Hogarth goes on to say that the best way to prove your e-learning investments are valuable is often to look at the cost savings they enable through improving productivity. In other words, the ROI of e-learning shouldn’t be measured through vanity metrics (such as course completions) alone, but instead by the time and money you save by increasing your employees’ expertise.
Start small by focusing on an initiative or team that’s underperforming. Identify the skills they need to develop further, create an e-learning path to address them, then calculate the time savings gained by closing the skills gap.
2. Low adoption rates amongst employees
As with any new software rollout, there is a risk of low adoption rates amongst your employees. And if you plan to focus your e-learning program on providing development opportunities (rather than, say, mandatory compliance training), this is an even more important challenge to address.
In 2021, Gartner surveyed 3,544 employees and asked them how important a variety of factors are when it comes to participating in a learning experience at their organization.
Ease of understanding and ease of access were the most frequently-cited factors by employees, and yet, only 34% of employees say learning at their organization is both easy to access and understand.
How to overcome this challenge:
Considering that ease of understanding and ease of access have the most influence over learners’ decision to participate, you should focus on getting these two components right to increase learner engagement.
To improve ease of understanding, keep your course content focused. Provide the learner with key takeaways and avoid overloading them with extraneous information or context. Embrace microlearning (an educational strategy that takes complex topics and boils them down to short, stand-alone learning modules) wherever possible.
Ease of access refers to how simple your e-learning experience is for employees to navigate. For example, do learners know how to log in to the platform? Is content accessible and easy to read on mobile devices? Is there a resource library that learners can access at any time? Check out our tips for making mobile-friendly e-learning courses for specific advice on how to improve ease of access for your employees.
Lastly, one foolproof way to increase engagement with your e-learning platform is to make it mandatory for employees to complete courses. To do this, encourage team managers to set learning goals for their direct reports, then use the analytics feature of your e-learning platform to see how employees are tracking toward them.
3. A lack of skills and time needed to create custom courses
Although many course authoring tools feature easy-to-use drag-and-drop interfaces, there’s still a learning curve when it comes to creating custom e-learning content. Plus, some platforms limit the number of users who can hold an admin seat, which makes it even more difficult to scale production of in-house e-learning courses.
Michelle Reid, an HR professional with over 15 years of experience who currently works as the people director at the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM), has experienced this challenge firsthand:
“Delivering training and designing an e-learning course are two very different things. You can be an exceptional trainer, but you will not be able to write e-learning, because you have to do it from a different lens.”
How to overcome this challenge:
Reid’s advice for creating effective e-learning courses is as follows: “Think about the journey for the individual. Think about the key messages you want to communicate. Think about what’s best for e-learning and what’s best for in-person training, and how you can blend them together.”
Use your best judgment when deciding what kind of training works in a virtual learning environment, and lean on learning management system features, such as pre-made course libraries and community support forums, to fill the gaps.
4. Low knowledge retention rates
In “Adopt an Effective Virtual Training Program,” Gartner states that students can forget up to 50% of the information learned in training within one hour, and 70% within a week—regardless of whether it is learned in person or virtually.
Knowledge retention is always a challenge that training managers deal with, but with online learning, the risk is heightened by the fact that employees complete their training unsupervised. Whereas it’s easy to pick up on an employee’s disengagement during in-person training sessions, the same can’t be said for e-learning courses, which is why employees may treat them as just another task to check off their to-do list.
How to overcome this challenge:
Gartner offers their own advice for improving training retention, which we’ve summarized in the graphic below:
In addition to following these three tips, one thing you should do to make retention easier for employees is create a knowledge base of training materials—preferably, a searchable one. That way, they’ll know where to go when they need to brush up on best practices, processes, or concepts they’ve forgotten.
Don’t let the challenges of e-learning prevent you from leveling up your training strategy
Fact: The majority (74%) of employees want self-directed and independent learning during their spare time at work.  However, the current approach businesses are taking isn’t working: According to Gartner, more than 40% of employees report that the compliance and ethics training they received in the last year did not help them perform their job better.
Addressing the four e-learning challenges we’ve covered in this article will help your business deliver effective online training. So to summarize our key takeaways:
- Set a budget for educational technology and demo products within your price range before committing.
- Ensure every e-learning course you create is short, straightforward, and valuable.
- Know the limitations of online learning, and lean on premade course libraries and e-learning communities for support when needed.
- Have a strategy for reinforcing what employees learn online, and create a searchable repository of evergreen training materials.
And don’t miss our related content:
- How To Build E-Learning Modules That Improve Training Retention
- 4 E-Learning Advantages That Will Convince You to Change How You Train Employees
- 3 HR Applications for Your Learning Management System
- Video: 3 Tips for Using E-Learning to Train Employees
* Software Advice’s 2022 Toxic Culture Survey was conducted in January 2022 among 294 HR leaders at U.S. companies. An HR leader is defined as any HR employee with the role of HR manager or higher at their organization. The goal of this survey was to learn how the transition to hybrid and remote work impacted toxic employee behaviors.
- Matty Hogarth, LinkedIn
- State of the Learning Culture 2021 Report, Gartner
- Michelle Reid, LinkedIn
- Adopt an Effective Virtual Training Program, Gartner
- Case Study: Employee-Needs-Driven Compliance Training (GM), Gartner