Businesswoman working at desk

Fixing Compliance E-Learning Programs

Thursday, August 6, 2015

In my previous post, “Bridging the Gap Between E-Learning and Compliance,” I assert that there is a problem with compliance e-learning. Namely, there is too much compliance, and not enough learning. 

Here’s the good news: While there is certainly a problem with many compliance e-learning programs, there doesn’t have to be. More importantly, talent development leaders already possess the tools to make real compliance—and effective learning—possible. 

At the highest level, the solution is simple. Instructional designers and developers must apply the same learning skills and techniques to compliance that they already use to address other learning needs. For example, the ADDIE model isn’t new, but the idea of applying it to compliance programs might be. Indeed, ADDIE offers a step-by-step guide on how to fix compliance training with its robust learner-centered focus, rather than an agenda to simply meet the compliance guideline.   

Let’s look at a few compliance tips to consider during the first two stages of the ADDIE model. 


The end result of your next compliance e-learning program is almost entirely determined by the quality of research you conduct at the beginning of the project. Specifically, to build effective compliance training, you must answer two key questions: 

  1. What does the law really require? Whenever possible, go to the primary source. In other words, review the specific law, policy statement, or official memo from the governing body overseeing the compliance guidelines. Too often, compliance courses fail because they try to fulfill a staggeringly long list of learning points. You may be surprised, however, to discover how far the learning objectives have strayed from the original compliance requirement.

    Often, when you bypass the inherited laundry list of learning points and study the actual compliance requirement, you’ll find a statement as simple as, “All employees must receive annual training.” There may be no further stipulations on what that training should entail. If you can find that all-important legal language, you may be able to convince internal stakeholders to take a fresh, learner-centered approach to compliance content.

  2. What do your learners really need? This critical question is often overlooked by those designing compliance learning projects. Whatever the legal requirements are, you must also know the real needs of your specific audience.

    Case in point: If you are creating a required sexual harassment course, your learner needs might be very different in an elementary school environment, where female teachers are typically more prevalent, than in the video game industry, where vastly outnumbered female workers may face real issues of inequality. By uncovering the real pain points your organization is experiencing—captured with actual scenarios in your learners’ own words—you’re well on your way to building a compliance course that engages learners and elicits behavior change. 


Depending on the results of your analysis, the compliance program you design can take a wide variety of forms. If the legal requirements are many and your audience’s needs are low, perhaps the best solution is to have workers simply read a written policy and check a box to attest their understanding. On the other hand, if your audience’s needs are high and the legal requirements afford some flexibility, you may want to design a robust learning solution—complete with interactivity, media, ongoing support tools, and any other familiar methods to help make your learning stick.  

While you must design a solution that meets legal requirements, those requirements should not guide your design. Instead, let the needs of your learners guide the design, when defining your learning objectives, choosing a format, and getting buy-in from stakeholders. Once you have the right design in place for your specific learners, it’s easy to address go specific legal requirements. 

Bottom Line 

Using these tips along with best practices from the last three stages of the ADDIE Model (or whatever methodology you use to develop and deliver your work), you can confidently build a compliance learning program that wins back the trust of your audience—and does much more for your organization than simply checking a box. 

What’s more, opportunities for mandated learning across an entire organization are rare, so why squander the reach of externally mandated compliance courses when there are real problems you need to solve?  

To learn more about how to develop effective programs that will have your learners complying like never before, join me for ATD’s Essentials of Effective Compliance E-Learning. The next offering of this live, online workshop begins September 9, 2015. 



About the Author

Travis Waugh is a training generalist for The Georgia Institute of Technology. A reformed screen-writer and film editor, Travis has been helping adults learn in-person and online for over a decade. Whether teaching English as a second language in Japan, crafting IT training solutions for large corporations, or meeting faculty and staff learning needs in higher education, Travis has demonstrated a commitment to engaging audiences through humor, interactivity and dogged relevancy. 

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.