In a previous post, I explained how starting compliance training with a worst-case scenario can engage learners right from the start. Setting the course up with a scenario helps learners understand why the policies matter. In this post, I’ll explain a technique for keeping learners engaged throughout the course. Instead of being so boring that employees just want to click through as quickly as possible, this strategy gives learners a reason to actively seek out and understand policies.
Typical compliance training: Push
Let’s say you’re creating training for managers on providing reasonable accommodations for disabilities. A typical elearning compliance course on reasonable accommodations would start with a history of the ADA, ADAAA, Civil Rights Act, etc. (Readers outside the US, substitute your own laws about disabilities.) You might compare how the laws have evolved over time, define the terminology, and list some common reasonable accommodations you could provide.
All of that is “pushing” content to learners. The learners are treated as passive receptacles for content. You as the instructional designer control what content is delivered, in what order, and how quickly. The learners don’t make any decisions, and they don’t have any reason to dig deeper into the content.
Alternative compliance training: Pull
You could flip the whole course around though. Instead of pushing content to learners, you let them “pull” what they need. The trick is that you have to give them a reason to need the information.
In the example below, Simon asks his manager, Cindy, for time off after a surgery. This is a plausible situation managers might find themselves in where the right answer might not be obvious. The managers have to make a decision: to grant the time off or not.
In this scenario, you could just offer the two choices: grant the time off or not. I’m deliberately putting them in this situation to give them a reason to look up the policy. Therefore, I have two more choices below: “Ask HR” and “Review Policy.” If learners choose “Ask HR,” they’ll see a simulated conversation with an HR specialist explaining the policy and providing advice.
You might choose to only have one option for explaining the policy. Either just reading it or asking another character for advice might be enough. If reading the policy is the only option, it’s helpful to include a plain language explanation. This is especially true if the original policy is written in very formal or legal language. You can provide the original and the explanation side-by-side, or you might just provide the explanation.
If you will provide a job aid, use that job aid in the course so learners practice with that tool. If they won’t have a job aid in the real workplace, what would they do instead? Would they consult with HR or ask a manager? Then build that into the scenario. As much as possible, make the way learners access policy information in your course similar to how they will access it on the job.
Knowing when policies apply
Another advantage to the pull approach is that it helps learners see when policies apply to different situations. This is especially helpful if your audience needs to be able to distinguish between similar situations. Maybe under most circumstances, “guideline A” applies, but there’s an exception where “guideline B” applies instead.
Allen Interactions’ EAP Training
I first saw this technique many years ago in an example by Allen Interactions. The training is described as “learner-centric” in Michael Allen’s Guide to E-Learning. You can see a short preview on Google Books with screenshots of the training.
That example looks dated now (there’s a new, more modern, example in the 2nd edition), but the strategy is still excellent. In that training, learners could talk to their manager, coworkers, HR or the Employee Assistance Program manager to learn more. This was an elaborate, multi-step example where learners earned points each time they asked for advice, so they were rewarded for seeking out information.
Cathy Moore’s Connect with Haji Kamal
Although Cathy Moore’s Connect with Haji Kamal isn’t compliance training, it also demonstrates the technique of having characters ask for advice. Learners need to “pull” information and actively seek it out rather than passively waiting for the course to “push” it to them.
Even with one-question mini-scenarios instead of branching scenarios, you can use this technique to motivate your learners to look up the policies themselves. Give learners a reason to seek out and immediately apply the information. That will make them more likely to remember those policies when similar situations happen on the job.
Have you ever used this technique in your training? Do you see possibilities for improving your compliance training? Tell me about your experiences in the comments.
- Characters by eLearning Art
- Document by useiconic.com from the Noun Project
- Conference room by Storyblocks
This course example is also used in Protagonists Should Be Like Your Learners.
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Originally published with the title “Motivating Learners to Look Up Compliance Policies Themselves” on 3/22/2016. Updated and republished with a new title 7/21/2020.