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I am a M.A. in industrial/organizational psychology. Most of my experience has been in human resources and change management. My passion lies in employee assessment, organizational development and employee opinions. Website: www.IanMondrow.com LinkedIn Profile: http://linkd.in/drBYoC

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Understanding Participation in E-Learning in Organizations: a Large-Scale Empirical Study

Summary and Commentary by Ian B. Mondrow

In 2009, it was estimated that the training industry was worth $90 billion worldwide (ASTD, 2009 as cited in Garavan, Carbery, O’Malley and O’Donnell, 2010). $20 billon was focused primarily on e-learning (Patterson et al.,2 009 as cited by Garavan et al., 2010). In the UK alone, it is estimated that the e-learning business will increase 8-15% per annum. This increased interest is the reason that e-learning has become a popular topic in academic research.

E-learning is education that is supplied and facilitated through modern technology with the intent of employee development. As e-learning has increased in popularity, several concerns have been identified, including: poor participation, increased drop-outs, and e-learning acting as a sole source of learning. Garavan, Carbery, O’Malley O’Donnell (2010) sought out to examine a several variables that may impact the participation of employees in e-learning training (the dependent variable). These are listed and defined below:

  •  General-person characteristics – The general demographics of a population. In this specific study, it focuses on age, gender, education level, years of experience, mobility experiences and organizational tenure.
  • Instructional Design Characteristics - Characteristics of e-learning that include the quality of the content, quality of facilitation, allotted time and the option to provide feedback or receive additional support.
  • Motivation to learn – An individual’s motivation to learn reflects the extent to which an individual is interested in participating in a training and utilizing the knowledge acquired.
  • Self-efficacy – An employee’s perception of his/her ability to participate in e-learning.
  • Perceived barriers and enablers – Events or conditions that can hinder or encourage the participation in e-learning activities.

Surveys were administered to 275 Irish organizations with a response rate of 557 individuals. 40% of these individuals worked for a multinational organization that were Irish owned. Participants had the option to complete the survey online or mail in a paper copy. The survey asked for responses on a 5 point scale (1 strong disagree/low importance; 5 strongly agree/high importance) with 16 items evaluating motivation to learn, 13 items to measure self-efficiency,  32 items to review perceived barriers and enablers, 12 items reflecting on the instructional design of e-learning.  Participation in learning was measured by asking participants if they had participated AND completed any e-learning sessions in the past year.

General-person characteristics (β = .12, p < .05) shared a positive relationship with participation in e-learning. More specifically, positive small relationships existed between social class (β = .10, p < .05) and participation. Job tenure (β -.12, p < .05) also had a minor relationship to e-learning participation. Several negative relationships were also present for the following variables: age (β = -.42, p < .05) and company tenure (β = -.14, p < .05).

Instructional design characteristics (β = .11 p < .05) had significant relationships to participation. Motivation to learn also had a relationship to participation. After further examination, it was found that content quality (β = .15, p < .05) and feedback/recognition (β = .11, p < .05) shared a weak relationship with e-learning participation.

Furthermore, motivation (β = .49, p < .05) shared a moderate relationship with e-learning participation. Social support and self efficacy (β  = .37 , p < .05) were found to have a positive relationship with learning participation but situational constraints (β = -.32, p < .05)  shared a negative relationship with participation.

The findings show that motivation to learn had the strongest relationship to course participation. Motivation can be influenced by creating a culture that encourages employees to be continuous learners and regularly provides them with learning opportunities. In addition, if leadership and management demonstrate this behavior, employees will be more likely to see the value of education and be more motivated to participate in e-learning. All of the other findings support the notion that training needs to be applicable to the job, easy to understand, and engaging.

Overall, the study had a large population of data to work with, which is a rare quality of academic articles. However, one limitation of the study is that the data was collected using self-reprots from participants. Therefore, there is a possibility of bias from study participants.

As a reader, there were several additional concerns that were noticed. What was most shocking was to find several typos in an article published in an academic journal. There were several instances where the wrong letter was missing or the numbers did not match up to the wording. This raises some questions regarding the validity of the journal and the article. If it was able to be published with these mistakes, what does it say about the researchers attention to detail when implementing the experiment, entering data and conducting analysis. One must question if their results are truly accurate.


While there are some valid concerns about the articles creditability, it introduces some interesting findings.

First and foremost, it identifies that e-learning may not be appropriate for all audiences. There is a possibility that older employees may benefit more from classroom training. Therefore, it is would be an organization’s best interest to determine their intended audience for all training before it is implemented in e-learning. A training is no help if the intended audience has no interest in its training approach.

It also identifies that learner motivation is crucial for participation in e-learning. Therefore, for an organization to  ensure the e-learning courses are being utilized, it is vital to instill a culture that encourages employees to take the initiative in their own professional development. Management should work closely with employees to help them with developmental plans so they are aware of what training they need to grow. Company executives should also demonstrate the importance of learning by regularly discussing its value, participating in professional associations and participating in learning opportunities within the company. An organization that does not communicate this is likely to have employees with less motivation and interest in utilizing the available e-learning courses.

The study also demonstrates the importance of appropriate instructional design. Employees need to ensure that they are receiving the content they need to be successful in their role at the organization. However, there are two levels to content: (1) offering the right courses and (2) providing accurate and easy to understand information. The best way to achieve both of these is to conduct a needs assessment before designing any training. A needs assessment will help to determine if a training will assist employees in their job or if there is a solution outside of training that would be more efficient. During a needs assessment, a designer will also work with subject matter experts to understand the content. This is an opportunity for the designer to ensure that learners will get the information that is applicable to their job and the organization. In addition, learners should have the option to provide feedback on training to allow instructional designers to make needed updates. Employee feedback is crucial for employees to continue using e-learning because they want to ensure that their voice is being heard.

Source: Garavan, T.N., Carvery, R., O’Malley, G., & O’Donnell, D. (2010). Understanding participation in e-learning in organizations: a large-scale empirical study of employees. International Journal of Training and Development, 14 (3), 155- 168). 

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