“Force’em through every page!” for compliance

When my former employer first got a Learning Management System, someone said ‘Good, now we’ll be able to prove that employees have seen every page of the compliance course.’ My heart sank.

Years later I was approached by the project manager working with a supplier to build a scenario-based learning course for a compliance need.

Alex in Risk says that the elearning must be designed so that the learner sees every page. This is his interpretation of ‘by law we have to demonstrate the colleague has completed their training’. He won’t sign off without this.

The rest of this article is a slightly edited version of my response to the project manager:

Vintage illustration of soldiers lined up to fire.The first thing to recognise and accept is that Alex’s requirements are coming from a different world from the learning team. So there is nothing whatsoever to be gained by arguments around

* The quality of learning
* Learner engagement
* Application of learning to the job.

Risk are not interested in this and such arguments will be water off a duck’s back.

The Risk argument runs simply

In the (low probability) event of a compliance breach where the defence case for an employee is that they weren’t trained on that part of their job, can we prove that they were?

Well, what can we prove as things are?

We can prove that they were exposed to training material (via the LMS).  We can prove that the employee confirmed that they’d been trained (They click ‘Mark Complete’ at the end).  We can prove that they attained a pass mark in a subsequent test.  Let’s call these the ‘current proofs’.

So the question becomes:  What more watertight defence can we create by changing the elearning to allow less choice in what they see?

First of all, can we say ‘ we can prove that they’ve seen every page’ and have it legally valid or true?

No we can’t.  Not only can we not prove they had their eyes open or weren’t looking elsewhere,  or that they’ve understood each page or tried to relate it to their own work –   we can only  prove that every page has been put in front of them  by removing all questions from the course!  Some pages are feedback on a question asked, so they will not be shown if a learner didn’t choose that answer.  So we can’t ever say in an interactive course that they’ve seen every page.  That may sound pedantic but we’re dealing with that kind of argument so we have to meet it on its own terms.

They can say ‘of course I don’t mean that, I mean they’ve not been able to skip a page in the sequence’.  Can we change the elearning so that that defence is possible? Yes, by removing the menu.  Remove all employee choice and we can say that the employee was exposed to every page of the course.  But we know from long experience that doing that will result in someone clicking through without reading.  Does it matter? If it offers a stronger defence to the bank than the ‘current proofs’ above.  Maybe, but I doubt anyone would argue that.    Can we strengthen the defence?  Yes, by ensuring the test contains a question about every page. Are they willing to go that far?

So we’ve seen that

* ‘the employee has seen all the pages’ is not a valid or legal statement with any elearning
* ‘the employee has been exposed to all the pages’ is viable by removing the menu and questions. In effect, offering a book online.
* the resulting loss in learning quality and user engagement does not do much to improve on the ‘current proofs’
* while a test could conceivably prove reading of all pages it would be a very long test indeed
* furthermore, the more you remove learner engagement, the less likely it is that learning will take place.

This means that not only will more assessments be failed but the learning is less likely to be applied in the workplace.  Isn’t that  what really matters to the organisation more than the low probability event of a tribunal?

I’d say this proves beyond a shadow of doubt that what you’re designing – engaging scenario-based elearning, which the learner marks Complete, followed by a test – just about gets it right.  It improves performance while providing strong evidence that the colleague has been trained. In other words the ‘current proofs’ are the best proofs, regardless of the use of technology.

I’d propose two courses of action:

1. offer to provide a strong statement whenever a user leaves the course that spells out the implications of ‘Mark Complete’.  If it can’t technically be added at every point of exit, put it right at the beginning. Specify that ‘Mark Complete’ means  you vouch that you have been fully trained in this topic. Invite Risk to help you draft it.  Agree to this but don’t change the learning in any other way.  They agree to this and sign off the learning
2. If they don’t agree to this, take the radical way and create the learning as a PDF or as a single page  with no menu or questions. If anyone asks why, refer them to Risk.  I realise this is a waste of the investment in elearning but if they don’t sign off the project, it’s wasted anyway.  I’ll  get senior management support for this.

Finally a couple of thoughts.  The most common, well-known and successful piece of compliance training is the Highway Code. There’s no compulsion, no tracking, just a test on a sample of questions and a practical.  Would they describe this as violating ‘by law we have to demonstrate the colleague has completed their training’?

Every laptop user in the organisation, including Alex, is in daily breach of compliance when, every time they boot up,  they get a popup about data security that begins ‘Do not ignore this’.  The changes proposed sail dangerously close to eroding the credibility of elearning to the same level as this popup.

What happened?

Alex agreed to the ‘I have understood my obligations – Mark Complete’ statement.

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