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Frightening Realities of Content Regulation Over Learner Engagement

Angel Green

by , senior instructional strategist

Growing up, horror movies based on far-fetched fictional characters, like Nightmare on Elm Street or Chucky, didn't scare me nearly as much as movies with (unlikely) but potential realities, such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre  or Silence of the Lambs. Today, I have enough worry in my real life to preclude the need for paying money to intentionally be frightened. And though it's not nearly as fear inducing as the thought of demons invading my children (which actually seems to happen with enough sugar and lack of sleep), every once in a while, fear about training is enough to keep me from sleeping at night.

I realize it sounds kind of silly, but I know I'm not the only one losing sleep over training. We've all heard news stories of litigious action taken against companies for "ineffective training" or "improperly trained" employees. The scary part of these stories - outside of the fact they usually involve death or disfigurement - is that a decision has been made as to what makes training effective, and thus ineffective.

Scared(10 31 12)According to OSHA: "It is the Agency's position that, regardless of the precise regulatory language, the terms 'train' and 'instruct,' as well as other synonyms, mean to present information in a manner that employees receiving it are capable of understanding." And that, "training and instruction mean imparting information, a definition that implies the information is presented in a manner the recipient is capable of understanding."

The fear of regulatory action coupled with a definition of effective training as information sharing has caused many organizations to, at times, burden employees with content heavy learning events. This is unfortunate because the courses that could most benefit from experiential, scenario-driven, engaging interactions are the ones that end up becoming boring page turners to meet regulatory requirements of content necessary.

But, here's what keeps me awake at night…do we face an ethical dilemma, as learning professionals, if we feel  that while the content in a course may meet the regulatory requirements, the learner is not actively engaged or really learning anything?  What are we to do when we hear tales of learners paying other employees to complete their online training? What do you say when LMS reports show completion times that obviously indicate they are simply clicking Next, Next, Next and not listening or reading a word on screen? Is completion in the LMS sufficient?

Is the definition of offering information to the recipient in a form by which they are capable of understanding really going to teach the learner anything? As instructional designers and learning experts, we recognize that the way people learn is through experiencing consequences of actions. How much more effective would our training be if, instead of writing every word on screen, we placed learners in situations similar to those faced in the "worst case" scenarios and allowed them to make decisions and realize the consequences of their decisions?

Like you, our clients often have to submit the courses we partner to create through their legal and compliance departments. Though we may propose amazing, engaging, scenario-based learning experiences—inevitably to gain approval from these departments—we are asked to add page after page of content to ensure we provide information. Should we stand up for learners and argue the fact that information sharing is not learning?  

Ask yourself honestly—if you walked up to an employee in your organization six months after taking their regulatory/legal department approved annual compliance or safety training could they recognize signs that someone is illegally laundering money? Would they understand when deletion of documents can cause the collapse of an entire organization? Are they able to tell you the required distance to keep the cherry picker from the power lines?

The answers might be too scary. Happy Halloween!


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