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55% of UK employees using online learning systems for training lack time for study

Published on 20/11/2023 by David Jani

Many employees turn to online courses for career development each year to enhance their workplace skills and achieve professional growth. However, is studying an online course what employees want and do they get the desired results? GetApp investigated by surveying over 1,000 employees who use online courses at work.

employees study workplace qualifications for career progression on a giant mobile phone

According to the most recent government data, there were almost 826,000 adults in England engaged in education and training participation during the 2022-23 academic year and that number had risen by nearly 10% since 2021. Moreover, many of these educational courses are offered via online platforms and can be completed entirely remotely.

Training and skills development is also important in the workplace and studying an online course via learning management software platforms can offer a convenient and flexible way to gain essential skills at work. 

This might prove a solid choice for small to midsized enterprises (SMEs) and their employees thanks to their flexibility, scalability and cost-effectiveness. Furthermore, online training can prove very valuable to both parties in terms of building career skills and workplace expertise, as we discuss further in the article.

To gather concrete data, GetApp analysed the situation of training availability and challenges to online learning by surveying 1,014 full-time and part-time employees aged between 18-65 years-old who have access to and use online learning courses at work. 

For our full methodology, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Most surveyed staff want more training on professional and technical skills

Understanding why employees want to take up courses can tell company leaders a lot about the value that career development learning can bring to the workforce. Acquiring certain skills can be obligatory for some professions, where compliance is always evolving. In others, courses can be utilised to help employees adapt better to certain tasks or improve their industry knowledge.

To investigate how employee requirements affect the pursuit of online courses, we asked our sample which topics they wanted their companies to provide additional training on. From this, we were able to observe a clearer picture of where the priorities lie.  

Career growth was a big motivating factor for many of the online learners we surveyed. A majority (52%) of the entire sample wanted their companies to provide training courses on professional development skills. Additionally, over half (51%) also wanted access to courses that developed technical or digital skills.  

Graph showing the courses that employees most wanted to study

Overall, many of the skills our sample wanted their companies to provide additional training on appeared to be for the individual’s own benefit or to gain knowledge for its own sake. In many cases, the training wasn’t a cast iron requirement for licensing or certification. However, we did still observe that just over a quarter (26%) wished to take courses to meet mandatory training necessities. 

Does professional compliance play any role?

When looking a bit more closely at why employees are motivated to take training courses, we also observed a mix of factors at play. Despite compliance being at the lower end of course focus areas respondents wanted companies to provide more training on, it played a much more important role in motivating participants to take a course in the first place.

Our sample said that the biggest motivating factors for taking a training course were the need to meet compliance requirements and interest in learning more about their current job role. These exceeded other motivating factors like career advancement, developing new skills or a personal interest in learning.

Graph of the key factors that motivate employees to take training courses

In many ways, compliance and certification requirements topping the list of motivating factors isn’t a surprise. Many workplaces mandate these types of courses and set specific deadlines for their completion. This is especially true in industries such as legal, HR and IT where remaining certified is essential for being able to practice the profession. 

Who is proposing training?
We found that 17% of respondents said that employees typically requested training initiatives in their companies, compared to 41% who said it was solely management. However, 40% of respondents worked in companies where both employers and employees would propose training.

Employee preferences for how learning is delivered are mixed

There are thousands of course topics an employee could choose to take. However, the format in which the information is delivered can make a huge difference between a program that is a success or a dud, no matter the subject.

Learning at work can be done in a variety of ways, from hands-on in-person training or classroom learning, to fully online distance learning courses. Which of these options are preferred among surveyed staff members?

Our survey showed that no one option was an outright success. None of the types of learning we put to our sample were chosen by 50% or more as their top three preferred methods. However, we could observe some preferences, such as on-the-job training, as the graph below demonstrates.

Infographic graph showing the most preferred methods of workplace learning

However, whilst on-the-job training was the most preferred out of the choices selected, online options and hybrid (in-person and online) courses are also widely popular amongst our sample. 

It may help in these situations to assess the preferences of employees within an organisation before contracting online courses. Surveying staff could prove beneficial in this regard so the right program can be chosen and preferences better understood. This can ensure employees get the best experience from the course and meet their learning goals most efficiently.  

Did you know?

In GetApp’s 2023 Remote Work Survey we observed a similarly mixed pattern of employee preferences for remote and in-person activity in the context of working environments. Here, 34% of our UK sample said they performed best at work with a mix of remote and in-office attendance, while 39% said they work better when fully remote, and 27% said they were best at the office. 

This suggests that it may be beneficial to businesses to conduct courses remotely, at least in part, whilst organising orientation sessions with staff members to find the right balance for the organisation.

A majority of respondents lack sufficient time to use online learning systems

Taking a course can be a great way to build skills and take a step up the professional ladder. However, this isn’t a given when you start one. The way the learning program is conducted and how it fits in with an employee’s day-to-day life can play a big part in the success or failure of an individual’s learning goals. Moreover, it’s important to consider time constraints when starting a new course.

Generally speaking, online learning courses seem to meet the expectations of employees. A combined total of 96% of the sample said the online learning experience met their expectations in regard to their personal learning goals. 

However, there are also many obstacles that learners in our survey encountered when studying using online learning systems at work, the most common being a lack of time to use the education resources. We detail our findings in the graph below:

GRAPH of the biggest obstacles facing learners on online courses
Tips for SMEs

In our 2023 Flexible Working Hours and 4-Day Workweek Survey, we found that 89% of software users said software platforms were able to help them to achieve better time and location flexibility at work. In the same vein, some options which might help companies and teams save time on essential tasks include:

  • Employee scheduling software: tools which give employers better visibility on how employee time is allocated and allow them to plan more strategically.
  • Productivity software: to help companies increase efficiency by automating some workplace tasks and reducing common errors. 

Despite the setbacks seen above, most of our sample regarded online education learning opportunities as valuable. 92% of our sample said that it is important to them that their companies offer these learning opportunities. 

Not only this, but a combined total of 71% said that the online courses they have taken were useful in helping them progress in their career or get a promotion. In fact, over a quarter (26%) regarded them as extremely useful in this sense. 

This paints a very favourable picture of career development online courses in companies. These findings overwhelmingly demonstrate that online courses are practical for the purposes they are sought out for and are seen by employees positively. However, there are challenges in learning that can still be overcome (such as allowing sufficient time for learning) which should be taken into account. 

Online learning courses are attractive to potential candidates

Training courses might not just be important for having a skilled workforce, they can also prove a great incentive to attract new joiners and retain existing staff. 

Employees want to know that a company is interested in their development. 70% of the employees we surveyed agreed that learning and development opportunities encouraged them to stay with their companies. 

It is also just as vital for attracting applicants to a company. The vast majority of our sample said they would apply to companies that offer learning opportunities through online courses.

Graph of the interest in learning opportunities when changing jobs

It seems that online courses work as a differentiator for job hunters when choosing possible positions. Therefore, offering training benefits could prove crucial when trying to attract talent to an organisation, as well as employee retention.

Tips for SMEs

A strong majority (65%) of our respondents believed that career growth through skills development and promotional opportunities was the responsibility of the company and employees equally. Furthermore, 59% say both company and employee mutually benefit from these arrangements. 

This presents a win-win opportunity for employers and employees. Using tools such as employee engagement software, employers should check in with staff frequently to understand where they wish to gain new expertise and understand their development goals better. This can help grow skills in the organisation whilst demonstrating a commitment to employee career growth. 

Online courses are helping employees reach their goals

Online courses and other training programs can do much to enhance a company’s profile amongst its staff and within the job market generally. They can potentially offer many benefits and may be seen as a win-win for workers and employers alike. Yet there are still concerns about the time required to complete these courses, which, in turn, could blunt their effectiveness.

Using learning management systems can help companies roll out career development courses in a business. However, there are some important decisions to make to ensure these work as planned.

To choose the best LMS software it can help to consider the following questions:

  • Does it offer course models that can help staff achieve their training goals?
  • Does the platform offer the functionalities you want to utilise?
  • What technical requirements would be needed for the course?
  • Can staff members easily access the course through the platform?

The world of education is always changing. However, another factor that is likely to encourage workers to consider learning new skills is the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) tools. In the second part of our analysis of online learning courses, we examine how employees are upskilling in the face of AI and how machine learning systems can help drive more personalised educational experiences.

Looking for learning management systems? Check out our catalogue.


The data for GetApp’s 2023 Career Driven Learnings Survey was collected between August 11th and 21st and comprises answers from 1,014 respondents. We selected our survey sample based on the following criteria:

  • UK resident
  • Aged 18-65 years-old
  • Full-time or part-time employee
  • Works for a company with more than one employee
  • Has access to online courses at work and use them at least sometimes

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

About the author

David is a Content Analyst for the UK, providing key insights into tech, software and business trends for SMEs. Cardiff University graduate. He loves traveling, cooking and F1.

David is a Content Analyst for the UK, providing key insights into tech, software and business trends for SMEs. Cardiff University graduate. He loves traveling, cooking and F1.