Rethinking Compliance Training in eLearning: Part 1

Nobody working in the world of eLearning can get far without getting involved in some form of compliance training. On the one hand, it’s the bread and butter for many eLearning designers (according to Charles Jennings, 80% of all eLearning in Australia has to do with compliance), and there seem to be a never ending stream of legislation that employers are required to make sure their employees are aware of.

And once created, compliance courses have to be amended, updated and adapted, providing a useful ongoing revenue stream.

On the other hand, too much compliance training is what gives eLearning a bad name, as it often reflects the worst of it – mind-numbingly dull page turning, next-clicking and quiz-questioning. Often, the tests are so badly written that the answers are either blindingly obvious or impossibly elusive.

In one UK bank, hundreds of frustrated employees failed an otherwise easy desktop IT safety course by not knowing the regulation distance between the top of their knees and the bottom of the desktop (two inches, since you ask).

Clive Shepherd sums it up as – employees hate doing compliance training, and as a result, trainers hate offering it. The answer, then, is to use eLearning instead with the result that now learners hate eLearning.

It is not even particularly effective. According to a recent survey in 2013, whereas nearly all organizations use technology-enabled compliance training, only 20% think it is raising awareness and understanding of complex regulations – but then again, only 20% provide managers with resources to encourage application back in the workplace.

Not that firms are setting very high standards in the first place. A survey in 2014 found that the largest proportion of employers thought their eLearning was “Ok, but needs improvement” – however their aspiration was simply to raise it to the level of “meets standards”, rather than above average or very effective.

It’s hardly surprising then, that according to an LRN study in 2013, 60% of employees identified “online learning fatigue” as their top challenge. The simple point is that most employees don’t really embrace compliance training with open arms. Most are overwhelmed with the amount of information being thrown at them, in the form of emails to be read and responded to, appraisals to prepare for, quality standards to be met, endless internal and external forms to be filled in and deadlines to be adhered to.

Finding time to complete mandatory compliance training, on topics that are vital but often perceived to be marginal is just another headache. As Iain McLeod of SAI Global Compliance says, “Universally, lack of employee engagement emerged as the biggest barrier to effectiveness – and it’s linked strongly to the poor reputation of compliance eLearning . Ask yourself what efforts you are currently making to really engage your audience and make it relevant to them. If you are subjecting your employees to ‘death by PowerPoint’, rolling out the same content year after year to everyone regardless of their job role or risk profile, blinding the learner with irrelevant detail about what the law says rather than what it means to them or failing to engage your line managers in the process, then chances are that you are potentially turning off the very people whose buy-in you need to effectively mitigate your compliance risks.”

Many businesses compound the problem by presenting compliance training as simply a hurdle for one to go through, a box-ticking exercise to avoid comeback, rather than any kind of meaningful learning.

Every employer has heard horror stories of companies being sued by their employees over some safety or discrimination scandal, and paying out huge sums of money in addition to suffering a bruised reputation and other forms of long term damage. In some industries, employers may also have to answer to regulators, or appear before Parliamentary Committees.

The most common reasons employees sue their employers are if they feel they were discriminated against , unfairly disciplined or dismissed, harassed or bullied, or that medical or mental problems weren’t taken seriously. All these are issues that need to be covered by compliance training.

But, it’s not easy to create a respectful workplace where policies are well-known and consistently implemented, where issues are carefully documented, and where supervisors are accountable for and vigilant in managing situations before they get out of hand.

How can compliance training, and the part eLearning plays in it, be changed?

Before devising yet another piece of boring compliance training, think about the following five questions.

  • What do we want employees to do that they may not be doing now?
  • What do employees need to know if they are to do these things?
  • What principles do they need to understand and buy into in order to do these things?
  • What skills do they need to acquire and practice in order to do these things?
  • What else needs to be in place in the work environment if performance is going to change?

By starting with behavior change, as Carmen Simon suggested in her interview last month, there’s a much better chance of success.

Stay tuned for the second article of these series!

Improve your employee, partner and customer training with our enterprise-ready learning management system. Book a demo now and see why our diverse portfolio of customers consistently give us 5 stars (out of 5!)

Book a demo