The Downside to Monitoring Employees’ Online Behavior

Topic(s): learning, training
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2013)
Article: When big brother is watching: Goal orientation shapes reactions to electronic monitoring during online training
Authors: A.M. Watson, L.F. Thompson, J.V. Rudolph, T.J. Whelan, T.S. Behrend, A.L. Gissel
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

There is a real, measurable downside to monitoring online training. Online trainees who are having their performance monitored become goal-oriented in a way that affects their level of apprehension. That apprehension, in turn, affects their ability to acquire new skills, according to a recent study (Watson et al., 2013).


E-learners are new employees at a business who are being taught necessary knowledge and skills through online training. When that web-based training is monitored and employees know that they are being monitored, it affects the pattern of thoughts and behaviors that they typically display in pursuit of a goal. They often experience evaluation apprehension, becoming concerned about what their colleagues think of them during web-based training. This inhibits their ability to learn the skills and knowledge taught by the web-based training.

Employees who are being monitored during these online training sessions, via some type of computer software that tracks information such as keystrokes, time spent on each lesson, and internet activity, will respond accordingly. Those who are more worried about appearing incompetent than actually learning the skill will feel more concerned about what their colleagues think of them. This will negatively affect their ability to learn the material from the online training. Similarly, those employees focusing more on appearing superior to their colleagues than on learning the actual skill being taught by the online training will also focus more on their co-workers and less well on the material. Either employee perspective impairs the ability to learn material being taught in a training session.