3 Reasons Your eLearning Should Never Be Mandatory

When designing corporate elearning experiences, it might often seem compelling to make them mandatory. For some reason, we’ve grown to believe that forcing the learners to “take up on courses” or “participate” will guarantee learning. But the unfortunately reality is that it doesn’t. Far from it actually. Making a learning activity mandatory is a great way to kill motivation and effectiveness as well as introduce an inherently wrong culture of learning in the organisation. Thus, we should find alternatives. Here are three reasons to avoid mandatory elearning.

1. Mandatory eLearning kills motivation

Learners like choice, freedom and personalisation. Furthermore, adult learners tend to be relatively more self-directed than kids at school. Finally, learning is something that is inherently fun and rewarding, thanks to the element of discovery. Whenever you make learning activities compulsory, you’ll take away from all that. As soon as something is made mandatory, you’ll evoke a psychological defensive reaction: “why do I have to do this”. And if your training materials are not relevant, the employees will soon feel like you’re wasting their time. Continue that for long enough, and you’ll find it very hard to introduce meaningful learning initiatives within the organisation.

2. Having to go through everything doesn’t constitute effective workplace learning

On a practical level, once someone has decided to make elearning mandatory, a common technique to enforce that in practice is to use a technique of “locked progress”. Essentially, this means that the learner has to go through every piece of material, most often in a pre-defined sequence, to complete the learning. Unfortunately, this type of approach doesn’t serve the modern workplace learning at all.

Workplace learning is inherently informal and sudden. To really affect and enable performance, learning has to be much more just-in-time. In fact, most of the traditional corporate elearning today would probably be better off served as performance support resources than highly structured activities. If you’re wish to support your people at their jobs, limiting their access to information and having them jump through the hoops of locked progress might not be a good idea, as it kills all this natural inquiry -type of behaviour. And it’s not that they won’t learn, no. Your employees will probably find the resources via other channels. It’s just not going to be your learning materials, hence you cannot control the validity of the information.

3. Mandatory eLearning reinforces tick-box culture

Finally, the perhaps highest level challenge in trying to force your employees to learn is that it reinforces a tick-box culture. As there’s a good chance that the employees don’t feel that your mandatory elearning is all that relevant or beneficial to them, they are likely to try to minimise their effort to go through it. Yes, they will probably click through the slides or loop through the videos if you force them to, but that’s where it ends. You see a learning culture where it’s enough that something has merely been completed. We sure hope no-one still believes that having someone complete something is a good indicator of learning (hint: it’s not). Rather, learning requires active thinking, reflection and application and is a much more complex process.

Final words

All in all, we don’t think making your elearning or any kind of training mandatory is ever a good idea. Instead of trying to force people to learn, it’s our job as learning professionals to design workplace learning experiences that actually help them to perform better and motivate them to learn on their own. Some will undoubtedly argue that some learning needs to be mandatory for compliance reasons, and that may be true in some cases. However, even if you have to have your employees go through training doesn’t mean that you have to use the same old “mandatory” playbook. Rather, find ways of using things such as gamification, social or experiential learning to make it a bit more interesting. Or, use proper analytics to prove that the required effort has been put in, instead of forced tests or completions. And if you need help, just contact us.