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Who Cares About e-Learning for Compliance Training?

Ethan Edwardsby Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist

Each time I teach the ASTD e-Learning Design Certificate courses, I’m reminded of how many organizations look to e-Learning as the vehicle for delivering compliance training — training that for legal or regulatory reasons the organization is required to conduct and document.  Compliance training often is related to certification or accreditation, and failure to comply may result in hefty monetary fines or restrictions to even operate.

It seems that organizations rush to use e-Learning in these situations for two major reasons:  the burden of teaching this bureaucratic information consistently through other means is too onerous, and the reporting of completion data through an LMS greatly simplifies the effort to document compliance.

Unfortunately, there are two common attributes of the resulting e-Learning that virtually guarantee failure: company-wide acceptance that compliance content is by definition “boring” excuses the worst sort of useless page-turning as the instructional model for the learning modules, and the “check-box” reporting mentality creates simplistic and meaningless interactivity that begs to be ignored by the learners.  (And this check-box mentality is coming back to haunt organization as many overseeing entities have realized the meaningless nature of this kind of reporting and have begun to validate training through site visits and more challenging qualitative evaluation methods.)


This is a good example of how positive motivators for one group can be at best neutral or even de-motivating for others. While one hopes that individual businesses value the positive impact on the individual worker of these training topics (like sexual harassment, workplace diversity, or even something as practical as emergency preparedness), the primary motivation for the organization to comply with these training requirements is a matter of administrative duty.  They have no choice if they want to continue operating.  

This administrative duty does not really transfer with the same impact to individual employees, yet I am amazed at how often the sole “welcoming” message to the learner that opens a compliance training piece is essentially, “The only reason we’re making you do this is because we have to.”  This message is reinforced when the learner gets into the “training” and is subject to the tedious and inane page turning and trivia activities that result from this sort of design approach.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  As twisted and misguided as some of these regulations have become in their official implementation, there is usually a valuable idea at the core.  Workplaces really do function better when there is a shared respect for diversity; no worker wants to be the victim of sexual harassment, and it is in everyone’s interest to be able to proceed safely in various emergencies.  

These topics touch each learner in very personal ways, and any training that is going to be successful is going to have to tap into how each employee is responsible for the work climate.  The motivators that are going to engage the learner by necessity will have to address attitudes, personal consequences, and elicit specific memories of past experiences that can be tied to the objectives.  This will not happen unless the designer of the instruction creates interactivity that will lead the learner in that direction.

Creating bad e-Learning is just as expensive as creating good e-Learning. Actually it’s probably more expensive when you take into consideration the wasted training time and the ill-will and distrust that it builds while not teaching.  Just because we think of the course as required teaching doesn’t mean that learners process it as required learning.  The necessity for creating meaning and relevance is probably even greater than for the other training projects we face.