Why Workplace Learning Projects Fail & What We Can Learn from it?

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key factors to the failure of workplace learning

The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” 

This is a popular quote ascribed to the visionary and business magnate Henry Ford. The quote is not just restricted to the automobile industry and holds good for all business models and life as well. Failure and success are compared to impostors in Rudyard Kipling’s classic poem “If” and the poet asks his readers to treat both success and failure alike. We should draw a corollary to the statement and remember that whatever be the outcome of a project, one should draw enough learning from it and learn to prepare better for future projects. In this blog post, we look at the primary reasons that contribute to the failure of workplace learning projects and what organizations can learn from these failures.

key factors to the failure of workplace learning

The factors listed above are some of the broad reasons why workplace learning projects fail. Let’s examine these factors in detail.

Improper Analysis of Business Requirements

If the foundation itself is weak, the skyscraper however strongly built, is bound to collapse sooner or later. Similarly, if the business requirement analysis itself is incomplete and improper then rest assured that the project is doomed. A typical eLearning project comprises multiple stages. Once the project commences it is the responsibility of the sales team to communicate clearly what the client wants to the project manager tasked with executing the project. The project manager then communicates with the client contact to get all relevant details. If it is an internal project, then the PM gets these details from the relevant stakeholders within the organization. To quote another popular proverb, – “Well begun is half done”. If your analysis of the client’s requirements is pitch perfect, then it is the ideal start for your project to succeed.

Knowledge Gaps and Resource Issues

One of the key elements of project management is resource allocation. Knowing who would complete a specific task on time in a large team of employees is an important quality. Often what happens is that a few senior members guide a large team with their knowledge and skills and step in when there’s a crisis. But how long does this keep running and when does every individual take responsibility for the tasks allocated to him/her? It is important for teams to function at full steam. In an ideal scenario, there would be dedicated resources working on one project at a time. But we do not live in an ideal world, with multiple Workplace Learning projects running in tandem, it is a tough task for project managers to allocate resources to complete a project on time. In most cases, team members work on different projects simultaneously. It is important that they have the right skills and the required tools to complete the tasks assigned to them. Smaller organizations work with just a couple of licenses for high-end course-authoring tools or design software. So, it becomes a nightmare to ensure that there aren’t multiple employees trying to sign-in and use the software at the same time.

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A term used often in eLearning parlance is ‘KT’ or ‘Knowledge Transfer’. Be it the instructional designer working on the storyboard or the graphic designer creating the visual elements, or the Storyline developer or Captivate developer giving life to the content, everyone should have the necessary knowledge to understand what is it that the client or end-user wants. By facilitating conversations between the key stakeholders, ensure that there is an open line of communication, which keeps everyone aware of the dates and deadlines related to the project. When all knowledge gaps are filled there is greater clarity on what needs to be done.

Never undermine the importance of a clear line of communication and when needed speak directly in person instead of writing long emails.

Information Overload

We live in an era where we are just bombarded with information from all sides. The Internet, the growth of social media networks, and blogs and news websites, that offer information with just a few keywords – thanks to Google have contributed to the ‘Information Overload’ problem.

Workplace learning Failure comic image

The smartphone has contributed to this intense dependence on Google for all answers. Just a few relevant search terms and you have all the answers you need. Be it the weather, driving directions, the stock market, or hunting for a new job, information is just at your fingertips. This applies to the eLearning that you create as well. Remember there’s a specific audience for whom you are creating the learning content. Keep that demography in mind and do not simplify and dumb down the learning content at the same time do not use complex terminology that scares the learner. As Francis Bacon said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”  

Find that sweet spot wherein you balance information and knowledge and create a good learning experience.

Poor Project Management in Workplace Learning Projects

We talk about ISO standards, CMMI certifications, lean, and agile models, and numerous other adjectives and phrases to describe the project management lifecycle. But the truth remains that most Workplace learning projects fail because of lack of planning and poor project management. This can cover several areas like:

  • Poor communication
  • Mismatch in allocation of resources
  • Wrong estimation of effort
  • Failure to update internal work-trackers and timesheets
  • Not meeting critical delivery deadlines
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As stated earlier, we do not live in an ideal world. Even with the best of planning and proper allocation of resources, exigencies beyond human control can impact a project. An important member of the core team may fall ill, or there could be a bereavement, and the individual may not be able to work for a long period, or there could be a natural calamity like flashfloods or an earthquake, that may throw life completely out of gear. One always needs to have a ‘Plan-B’ – in critical projects, one may need to have a ‘Plan-C’ as well. But one must remember one key fact. A great project manager may create fancy spreadsheets and presentations and populate it with data, charts, and timelines. If this is not supported by the content, graphic design, and development teams, then the project fails.

The chart below explains how an ideal workplace learning project is executed.

Instructional Design

Stakeholder Conflict in Workplace Learning Projects

Workplace learning Failure stake comic image

What do you see in the image above?

There are two people who are tugging at a rope. Each attempting to pull the other person towards them. This is the case in many Workplace Learning projects. When there are numerous stakeholders involved it is the perfect recipe for chaos. As the old proverb goes – “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” This again is an unavoidable circumstance when it is a large project and you have no other option than deploying a lot of resources to work on the project to meet the deadline.

Some examples of conflict and confusion in workplace learning projects

ID reviews

There are two ID-reviewers handling two different teams of IDs and content writers working on one large eLearning project. The structure and tone of modules created by both teams vary vastly.

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How does one resolve this?

The only solution to prevent such a scenario is to adhere to a strict style-guide and agree upon a voice and tone that will be a hallmark of the entire project.

Client reviews

There are multiple reviewers in the client’s team and there is a complete disconnect between the two of them. This leads to confusion, rework, and multiple reviews.

How does one resolve this?

This again can be avoided by a clear line of communication and keeping all stakeholders looped in all relevant email trails.

Version control issues

Despite organizations using version control tools, whenever there are multiple people working on a common asset be it a presentation or an animation clip, there are bound to be confusions. There have been instances of the wrong version of the storyboard being used for development! Yes, when things tend to go wrong – Murphy’s Law comes to play in full force.

How does one resolve this?

Adherence to version control rules, proper training for all employees, and the focus on ‘Quality’ can help cut down these issues.


We just touched upon some of the key reasons on why workplace learning fails from project management and primary content and design perspectives. If one were to sit down and list every single reason why workplace learning projects would fail, then it would be content for an entire book.

What one learns is that – never underestimate on what would go wrong. Always be prepared with an alternative plan, keep a clear line of communication among all stakeholders, design your learning program around the learning objectives that need to be met. Cut down on unnecessary meetings and let people do their work efficiently. If someone is bringing down the speed of work, speak to them and mentor as required. There is merit in the ancient proverb – “United we stand, divided we fall.” Work together as a team, you are sure to succeed.

Remember that you are creating a learning solution that could play an integral role in the life of the learner. It could help the learner acquire skills that would help them do their job better. Or the learners could learn a new language or complete compliance training. Be a part of a team that creates unique learning experiences and memorable moments for your learners.

What are some of the key problems that you would like to cite in terms of workplace learning projects failing? Do share your insights in the ‘Comments’ section below.

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