Compliance Training: Going Through the Motions

The Masie Center has noted that approximately 60% of new learning initiatives in large companies are driven by legal compliance regulations. There is a raft of health and safety, environmental, human rights, privacy, and financial reporting guidelines that must be adhered to, and training is seen (and often legislated) as a key component to remain “in compliance.”

And in large organizations eLearning is often seen as an intelligent means of addressing this compliance training challenge. This is because eLearning has the following advantages over a classroom-based approach:


A company can ensure that the same approach and message is delivered to all employees across the organization. There is no variance based on the differing approaches of individual trainers in individual locations.

Anytime / Anywhere Training

eLearning allows a company to have its compliance training available 24/7 to any employee anywhere in the world. There is no need for an employee to wait for the next offering of a course. New employees can be trained before they begin their jobs.

Self-Paced Learning

People learn in different ways and at different speeds. eLearning respects these differences as employees can work their way through the material at a pace that best suits their learning styles and abilities.

Increased Retention

Training can be conducted over a longer time period. There is more time for practice, reflection, interaction and, therefore, retention of material and concepts. Training need not be confined to a training “event.”

Thorough Documentation

eLearning allows for automated testing and automated collection of key training data (e.g. tracking of learner progress, program participation and completion rates, test courses, etc.). This not only creates tremendous savings in administrative costs, it provides documented evidence that training was completed. Also, such systems point out problem areas where remedial action / training may be necessary.

Cost Effective

Although there can be substantial up-front costs in developing eLearning, these can be amortized over time and a company can realize cost savings per trainee as more trainees participate in the same program over time. In other words, it’s a relatively high fixed cost, low marginal cost solution. eLearning also saves on travel, accommodation and site costs associated with face-to-face training.

False ROI

Unfortunately, too many companies approach compliance training in a perfunctory manner. They quickly organize and execute a training intervention (or purchase an “off-the-shelf” solution) so that they can check it off as completed. I call this the “cover-your-ass” syndrome. All that is important in this approach is that there is a record that your employees were exposed to the training.

This approach is very short-sighted. It can lead to a false return-on-investment (ROI). It is easy to prove, especially over time, that eLearning is a more cost-effective approach to classroom-based training. However, if your eLearning approach is not effective, the cost savings are meaningless and misleading. Companies serious about compliance training don’t just measure employee participation in training, they measure the effectiveness of these training measures on reducing costly compliance-related incidents (e.g. accidents, human rights complaints, environmental breaches, contaminations, ethical or accounting breaches, etc.). This is why our formula for ROI looks like the one noted at the top of this posting.

Smart organizations take a much more proactive approach to compliance training, with clearly stated objectives on decreasing, if not eliminating incidents, breaches and contraventions, and learning approaches that are designed to achieve such results. Their emphasis is clearly on prevention, as opposed to trying to prove some measure of reasonable care after the fact. As the age-old adage puts it: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Also, too many compliance programs have employees passively reading and clicking through a series of screens. By making their way through this information they are deemed to have “learned” the material and to have “competence” to do their jobs in the prescribed manner. Trainees may even pass tests on the subject. But the conclusion that the trainee has consequently been trained is flawed because they are often unable to apply the learning in work situations.

Better designed compliance programs have employees faced with realistic workplace situations and ask them to make choices and see the results of their decisions. The goal is to engage the learner in the issues on a deeper level that makes the issues more realistic and compelling and makes them realize that it is not merely a perfunctory academic exercise. They must be made to understand that there are real consequences related to their ignorance and that of their co-workers. Such an approach makes it more likely that these lessons are internalized and ultimately applied in the workplace.

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