Five ingredients for compliance e-learning excellence

by Viv Cole on September 29, 2014

Last week I had the privilege of judging the e-learning awards (obviously my lips are sealed as to who the winners are until the awards dinner). Naturally some of the entries had other ingredients that made them sparkle in other ways, but here I can share five themes that many of the short-listed entries had in common. These should be useful to both clients and vendors who are looking to make their compliance e-learning more interesting and impactful.

1. Focus on behaviours not policies

If the organisation requires people to read the whole policy, e-learning should not be the answer – put in place an effective system of tracking completion and the right carrots and sticks. What e-learning should be used for is providing realistic ways for learners to practice the desired behaviours and providing the minimum viable knowledge to do this. If you get the attitudes right, people will refer to the policy when they need to.

Several entries successfully boiled the underpinning policies down to just a few key messages which could then be communicated in engaging ways. This may take significant trust from your subject matter experts, but this is increasingly the direction of travel that regulators are taking (away from ‘tick box’ compliance).

2. Make the learning part of a campaign

Once you have defined the key messages about how you want people to behave, think about it as a communications campaign. E-learning is just one channel within the overall campaign. There has been much already written on this, so I won’t dwell on the benefits of campaign thinking and spaced practice e.g. improved memory, social learning, buzz, ease of learning transfer back into the workplace. Some entries applied campaign thinking very effectively.

3. Pre-test

Life is too short to be told things you already know so that your employer is legally protected. It’s a far better use of everyone’s time if learners have a pre-test. This means that the people who need the learning get it and those who don’t don’t (pre-testing enables a variety of routes through the learning). To make this viable, the questions in the pre-test need to be challenging and really robust. The amount of learner time that you’ll save more than justifies paying for additional instructional design expertise if you need help to step up the quality of questioning.

4. Use role filters

Learners don’t want to feel that they are being sheep-dipped. For large multi-role learner populations it is worth segmenting by role so that learners get their own learning paths, scenarios with more face validity and questions that more closely match the context into which they are going to demonstrate the target behaviours.

5. Tone of voice

Too much compliance e-learning has historically had a parent to child tone (“sit down and take your medicine, this will hurt me more than it hurts you…”).  A more adult to adult tone was strongly in evidence and it was refreshing to see examples where humour had been used without detracting from the seriousness of the key messages being communicated.

Update: Two years later…

Five more ingredients for compliance e-learning excellence

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Penfold September 30, 2014 at 9:10 am

Hi Viv, Great post and some excellent points to which many Learners would breathe a huge sigh of relief! One additional point that could help compliance content to be more interesting and impactful (to the largest possible number of learners), is a focus on ‘reducing friction’ for the learners and making the content available on any device, any browser and any operating system. The easier that learners are able to access the content, the more likely they are to engage, and therefore the more impact the content will have overall. Of course, to make this possible, careful selection of the right authoring software and LMS platform is required.


Dan Roddy October 10, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Viv, this is all such simple stuff but it bears repeating time and again. We struggle with SMEs on all of these points. In one module this year we tried to implement a pre-test – wrote questions based on the existing content, drafted an test module to do it, set up logic in the LMS to make it easy for users. Then was told by an SME that everyone needed to be sheepdipped again “because the regulators require it”. Soooo frustrating. Even the calculated cost of wasted time seems not to shift people’s opinions.


Viv Cole October 14, 2014 at 10:54 am

Thanks Dan, what’s interesting is when you challenge the SME: “When/ how did the Regulator say this was essential?” Many regulators are moving in a more enlightened direction towards measuring behaviour, not measuring that the learner has been forced to click on every screen.


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