A Pound of Entertainment for an Ounce of Compliance

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I had a brief Twitter exchange with Steve Flowers (@xpconcept), who I respect as a thoughtful and creative L&D leader, regarding compliance training. It was spurred by recent presentations and blog posts I’d seen from respected learning leaders about Learning & Development’s widespread obsession with creating entertaining, pretty, attention-getting training modules for compliance purposes. It was a fun thought experiment and one that hopefully leads to better solutions. It started like this:

Most of us have sat through that mandatory, online training course that comes up every year. The one where every bit of text on the screen gets read to you out loud, and you can’t click “next” until a few minutes have passed as if you couldn’t have read it for yourself (while simultaneously checking email or getting real work done). Or the 30-minute video showing a couple of people in awkward, near-comical workplace scenarios. Yes, even the hour-long training course you end up doing at home, after dinner, the night before the “compliance deadline.”

No, it’s not fun, and some of you may be saying “Stop whining and deal with it. It’s required to protect the business.” Fair enough. But is it really protecting the business?

Businesses expend time and resources making compliance training into big, flashy productions in the name of creating engaging training material. Whether it’s a slick, in-person presentation, or graphically rich, gamified training, the new normal is sneaking in knowledge transfer by wrapping it in shiny packaging. Meanwhile, each and every employee is taking hours away from their actual work to be entertained and… anything else? I call it “interactive chrome.”

L&D’s hope is that once interactivity is finished facilitating the knowledge transfer, you’re suddenly left with a better, more capable worker. But we all know that compliance training isn’t ultimately for the employees’ benefit. It’s to protect the business from the risk of a lawsuit. Steve came up with a novel solution that’d solve that problem with less fuss, while costing L&D hundreds of thousands of dollars less each year.

It’s true: shift the responsibility to the employee to verify that they’re in compliance and you’ve protected yourself from lawsuits. But what can we do to reduce actual business risk? What about building support around an EA that’s meaningful to the employee?

Yes, Steve, real behavior change! To get rid of waste, training and critical resources can be embedded within employees’ natural workflows with the tools they already use. Leverage unobtrusive analytics practices and suddenly you have a compliance program that may also actually reduce risk to the business.

Reducing business risk is not the same as protecting the business. It’s more involved and goes beyond traditional training. This is where the Experience API (xAPI) coupled with thoughtful design principles can help. The xAPI makes it possible to track what people learn and do outside the walls of the LMS. We’re no longer shackled to rapid authored content as the dominant method for knowledge dissemination.

Tips, warnings, guides, resources, and policy documents can be made available in the workflow at the moment of risk. Observation forms can be developed and deployed quickly to line leaders to capture real-world behaviors. Short, supplemental videos can be embedded to demonstrate how things should be done. This information can be tracked using the xAPI in a Learning Record Store (LRS) where it can be be analyzed and summarized to show trends and expose valuable insights into workplace competence and risk.

L&D finally has the freedom to a) think of compliance as real and quantifiable risk-reduction programs, b) design learning experiences in the context of existing work (not as additional work), and c) build comprehensive compliance records and competency analyses.

It’ll all be a lot less showy and entertaining (and expensive) than the current paradigm, but when employees actually click that “I Agree” checkbox, a business will actually be reasonably confident that they mean it. In turn, confidence in people’s capabilities (or lack thereof) can lead to appropriate action and intervention by a human being. Imagine a world where we supply the right information at the right time, track access and behaviors, analyze, take action, and repeat. A continuous process of learning and support.

Thank you Steve. There you go!

I hope you all find this article to be flashy and engaging enough to get the point across, and if you want to make your compliance training programs more pretty and engaging, please talk to us first. If you disagree or have other ideas, please enlighten us in the comments section below!