Can eLearning Help Avoid Discrimination in the Workplace?

We already know through yesterday's post on implementing a diversity initiative that elearning courses focused on diversity can help train your employes on how to be more culturally competent and understanding. With a better understanding of each other's cultures and our own biases, employees are more open to ideas and often develop better problem-solving skills.

In addition to the culture and productivity benefits, diversity trainings also prevent discrimination in the workplace. A workforce educated on both the right and wrong ways to address diversity is more likely to act appropriately in certain situations. However, if we move beyond the course material and focus on the delivery of the material, is it possible simply offering elearning as a training medium can help prevent discrimination in the workplace? 

Defining Discrimination

Discrimination, like harassment, can be difficult to recognize unless it is happens to you. Since we are all raised in different environments with unique experiences, each of us possesses a personal “discrimination definition”. For example, as a woman, my definition of discrimination is mostly tied to my sex. For an older individual trying to reenter the professional world, discrimination may mostly be defined in terms of age.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) definition of discrimination has attempted to encompass many of personal “discrimination definitions”, stating unlawful discrimination occurs when someone, or a group of people, is treated less favorably than another person or group because of a particular set of characteristics. These characteristics can include but are not limited to:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National or ethnic origin
  • Sex
  • Pregnancy or marital status
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Sexual preference  

The Challenges of Training

With hundreds of employees, each possessing their own discrimination definition and professional goals, how can you be sure your development and training opportunities aren't violating either?

Consistency is important for avoiding discrimination in the workplace, both in communication and educational opportunities. Unfortunately, in-person training can make this difficult. For example, juggling calendars when trying to schedule a face-to-face training may result in a training being offered only once at the end of the work day. While the time slot may work for the majority of employees, an end of day training may exclude parents who leave early to pick up their kids. The scheduler may have made an honest mistake, but one that may appear as indirect discrimination to those workers. In another scenario, perhaps the trainer themselves possesses personal biases which prevent a consistent or respectful training. After all, trainers are human too and will be bringing their own experiences to the table whether it fits with your company culture or not.

Just as important as consistency is opportunity. Often time training programs will focus on the individual employee instead of the role or responsibilities. Assuming an employee would not be interested in a training because they've never spoken about professional development or because they have children are examples of discrimination.

The eLearning Solution

Not only do elearning courses offer a wide array of courses designed to educate workers on diversity and discrimination, but the medium itself addresses two of the core challenges trainers face—consistency and opportunity.

Purchasing elearning courses off-the-shelf provides companies with a lot more control and flexibility over their training programs. For example, OpenSesame allows buyers to preview courses before purchasing, to get a sense of the material but also make sure it fits within their company culture. Plus, online training means the course is delivered the same each and every time the course is launched. No need to worry about a presenters personal biases creating issues for your employees.

The elearning medium itself provides more opportunities for employees to participate in a company's training or professional development program. To access courses, all an employee requires is access to the Internet and an Internet-enabled device (, phone, tablet). Additionally, courses can be accessed anywhere at anytime so employees can participate on their own time, at their own pace. Such flexibility avoids indirect discrimination related to work-schedules or those who like to review material multiple times.

No Matter the Medium, Review Your Training Program

While elearning as a training medium may alleviate some of the discrimination issue that can arise from face-to-face presentations, any professional development or training program can result in workplace discrimination if not regularly reviewed. Here are a few tips to consider when looking at your current program: 

Don't make assumptions about who gets or wants training: Are there employees, job roles or departments who have never participated in training? Investigate whether this is due to a lack of opportunity by the company or personal choice.

Stick to skills and knowledge: Focus your training or development opportunities on what is necessary for the job, as opposed to a specific person. OpenSesame can help you develop a competency map to ensure you are purchasing courses according to your desired skill set.

Access: Allowing employees to take online training from home or their personal workstations can avoid discrimination based on a disability or accessibility issues.