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ATD Blog

Can E-Learning Help Avoid Discrimination in the Workplace?

Friday, July 30, 2021

E-learning courses focused on diversity can help train your employees on how to be more culturally competent and inclusive. Employees are more open to ideas and often develop better problem-solving skills when they have a better understanding of each other’s cultures and their own biases.

In addition to the culture and productivity benefits, diversity training also prevents discrimination in the workplace. A workforce educated on the right and wrong ways to address diversity is more likely to act appropriately. Let’s look at how e-learning can potentially help prevent discrimination in the workplace.

Defining Discrimination

Discrimination, like harassment, can be difficult to recognize unless it has happened to you. People are raised in different environments with unique experiences, so each of us possesses a personal “discrimination definition.” For example, as a woman, my definition of discrimination is mostly tied to my gender. For an older individual trying to re-enter the professional world, discrimination may primarily be defined in terms of age.

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) definition of discrimination attempts to encompass many personal “discrimination definitions.” It states 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 who each possess their own discrimination definitions and professional goals, how can you ensure your development and training opportunities aren’t in violation of the above-listed terms?


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 training being offered only once at the end of the workday. While the time slot may work for most 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 that could appear as indirect discrimination to those workers. In another scenario, perhaps the trainer possesses personal biases that prevent consistent or respectful training. After all, trainers are human too and will bring their own experiences to the table whether it fits with your company culture or not.

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

The E-Learning Solution

Not only does e-learning 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 off-the-shelf e-learning courses provides companies with more control and flexibility over their training programs. For example, OpenSesame allows buyers to preview courses before purchasing them so that they can get a sense of the material and ensure it fits within their company’s culture. Plus, online training means the course is delivered the same every time the course is launched. There’s no need to worry about a presenter’s personal biases creating issues for your employees.

The e-learning medium 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 (such as a computer, phone, or tablet). Additionally, courses can be accessed anywhere and at any time, which allows employees to participate on their own time and 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 e-learning as a training medium may alleviate some of the discrimination issues that can arise from face-to-face presentations, any professional development or training program can result in workplace discrimination if it’s 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 that 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. Develop a competency map to ensure you are purchasing courses according to your desired skill set.
  • Access. Allow employees to take online training from home or their personal workstations can avoid discrimination based on disability or accessibility issues.

For more resources around diversity, equity, and inclusion that will elevate your ideas, boost your initiatives, and help you drive meaningful impact within your organization, visit OpenSesame.

About the Author

Amber Bogdewiecz is an experienced copywriter with a diverse background, developing stories for a wide range of unique businesses. She is also the co-founder of the urban cycling apparel line, The Bike Dress, providing inclusive, minimalist styles that merge fashion and function.

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