Sunday, February 26, 2006

Compliance Training: Going Through the Motions

The Masie Center recently 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 once 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.

If you are interested in exploring ways of improving the results and the value proposition of our eLearning, we have a new section of our Maximizing the Value of Your eLearning course starting on April 3, 2006.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

What's the Purpose of an LMS?

I recently attended a CLO Magazine-sponsored webinar titled “Benefits and Best Practices for Moving to an Enterprise-Wide LMS.” The presenters were Josh Bersin of Bersin & Associates and Shelly Heiden of Plateau Systems. Here are the slides, in case you missed it.

Bersin presented some survey results of why organizations purchase learning management systems and what purchasers found to be the key benefits of having an LMS. The biggest reported “business driver” for purchasing an LMS was to “manage training administration,” and the biggest reported benefit to having an LMS was for “tracking and reporting” on training activity.

These results absolutely floored me! What it tells me is that many training professionals view an LMS as simply some sort of elaborate central digital record keeping system. Where is the concern for the kind of rich and interactive and always accessible learning environments that could be created? Where is the view that an LMS could be a great tool for improving employee performance and facilitating the achievement of specific business results? Sure, accurate centralized records are a nice side benefit of an enterprise-wide LMS installation, but need this be the end goal?

Bersin’s findings reminded me of a session I attended at an eLearning conference a couple of years ago. Two training representatives of a large company demonstrated the various reports that their LMS could generate on which employees across the organization, and across the country, took which courses. They declared their eLearning programs a success because X number of employees had participated. I couldn’t help thinking that it was nice that there was all this activity, but to what ultimate end? Did performance improve? Was productivity better? Did sales increase? Did defects decrease? Was customer satisfaction higher? These were the types of questions that neither they nor their LMS could answer.

This phenomenon of focusing on activity rather than results in eLearning is what Lance Dublin refers to as the “butts in virtual seats” fixation. It is a bad carry-over from the days of focusing on attendance in classroom-based training efforts. In itself, attendance (whether in-person or online), means nothing.

If all you want to do is achieve better record keeping, any centralized database will do. You do not need an LMS for this. An investment in an LMS makes much more sense if you are looking for a tool to help achieve (and measure!) key performance improvements and business goals via online learning environments.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Just Do It! - Experiment Strategically With eLearning

Having been in the eLearning field for over a decade, I can't tell you how many times I have heard people say that they were "thinking about eLearning," "exploring their options," "seriously looking into it," etc., etc. When I talk to these same people a year later they are often saying the same thing, but they haven't actually done anything about eLearning.

Why is this? I call it the "deer in the headlights" syndrome. These individuals are so overwhelmed by the choices before them (what training challenge to focus upon?, what eLearning technology to use?, buy or lease?, etc.) that they are paralyzed with indecision. My colleague Mike Grant actually puts it a bit more directly....he calls it "organizationally constipated."

Mike just published a white paper on this phenomenon titled "How to Experiment with eLearning to Determine Value." In it, he explores why some organizations seem incapable of getting beyond the "dabbling" stage in eLearning, or, worse yet, cannot seem to even get started.

Mike suggests that organizations take a more strategic approach to trying out eLearning via a controlled experiment. This way, they can test effectiveness, learn valuable lessons, and re-calibrate if necessary before ramping up to bigger implementations. Or, they may well decide not to pursue eLearning. In either case, a controlled experiment means that you do not have to "bet the farm" on eLearning. You can minimize your risk.

The main point is that you will have real data on which to base your decisions.

The key factors for a successful eLearning experiment are:
  • keep it small and manageable
  • engage others (particularly skeptics)
  • focus on unserviced training needs
  • be creative (break out of the LMS "prison" if necessary)
  • measure real results
To read the full white paper, subscribe via the eLearn Campus website.