Bring compliance to life through e-learning

Compliance training can be as dry as dust –  can e-learning liven it up?

Prison sentences, employment tribunals, global fines – all are terrifying, but they are real consequences facingorganisations thatfailto comply with legislation and regulation.

Some larger organisations employ a compliance officer, but generally training managers will have some compliance training responsibility. They need to ensure training policiesand practices are watertight. This is where e-learning should be able to help as it can be an effective wayof delivering compliance training.

“It is flexible, which means the learner can do the training whenever they like, it is cost-effective and can reach across the whole organisation, and it is easy to take in content changes,” says Mark Martin, training director offinancial services compliance training provider Complinet. “Most importantly, it gives organisations an audit trail.”

Lots of choice

So, for the training manager charged with exploring e-learning options for use in compliance, what can it offer them?

The good news is there is a lot of choice, with an entire industry having grown up around compliance and compliance training. There is a host of off-the-shelf e-learning software available that covers key areas such as financial services, legislation, health and safety and corporate governance. Also, many e-learning developers have built up expertise in creating bespoke compliance learning programmes.

The costs of non-compliance should make it quite easy to make a business case for compliance training, especially if it is statutory. But bear in mind that not all compliance training is backed by legislation.

“Internal policies, procedures and practices are becoming very important to companies that are looking for best practice,” says Clive Barker, sales director at Nottingham-based e-Comply, the compliance division of e-learning WMB.

Nevertheless, training managers will need to justify investment in this sort of compliance training.

And while the traditional benefits of e-learning, such as global reach, less time out of the office and reduced travel costs, are important in demonstrating return on investment, non-cost areas are also important in making the business case for compliance training. These intangibles include consistency of material and content, ease of delivery and updating, and the ability to demonstrate compliance.

Whether statutory or mandatory, a solid business case will help to secure top-level buy-in -important in any training programme, but for complianceit isessential. Senior management often need to communicate the importance of such training to employees, who can be less than enthusiastic towards it, despite the regulatory demands.

“Staff indifference to compliance training can make the introduction of a course very frustrating,” says Chris Campbell, commercial director of London-based Fuel,which creates off-the-shelf and bespoke compliance training programmes.

“The answer is to involve senior management from the outset, to create a sense of ownership and ensure buy-in. Staff should also be consulted prior to any course launch so that they understand the reasons for and value of the training from a personal and organisational perspective. The high penalties for non-compliance also serve as a useful warning,” he adds.

Engage staff

Campbell suggests that the managing director complete the course first and then issue, if appropriate, “a glowing endorsement of its value”.

Of course, the best way to ensure employees are enthusiastic about the training is to try to make it an engaging experience for them.

Some off-the-shelf compliance courses can be dry but by no means all of them, with rich media and interactive content used to bring the subjects to life.

“It’s e-learning, not e-reading,” says Barker, whose company has created off-the-shelf programmes in areas such as office and fire safety, security and induction, and which offer learners plenty of opportunity to interact using techniques such as drag and drop.

Making the learner interact and get involved in compliance training also helps bring the “attitudinal shift” that is required to make the training truly effective, says Lars Hyland, director of learning services at Brighton-based developer Brightwave.

“A tick in the box may say you are legal and compliant, but this isn’t necessarily the truth if the learning hasn’t been effective,” he says. “And that’s when it can lead to problems.”

“Sometimes we’ll put the actual legislation on the back-burner and focus on making employees understand the consequences of their actions,” he says.

“We try to set it in context, which can help to change behaviour and attitude.”

Scenario-based learning

Hyland says that scenario-based learning and the use of rich media offer shorter, sharper, more engaging multimedia experiences to immerse the learner.

For a business continuity learning programme for telecommunications company Cable & Wireless, Brightwave used content that included movies and interactive briefings to get the message over.

“Because the subject can be perceived as dry, it was really important to keep our staff interested and engaged throughout, making sure they didn’t switch off,” says Russell Williams, Cable & Wireless business continuity manager. “The e-movies are a novel approach and a very good way of getting key messages across.”

In some cases though, e-learning alone will not be enough to ensure the individual can act on what they have learned.

E-learning is fine for learning the basics, says Ben Goh, secretary of the Milton Keynes-based Compliance Register,the international organisation for compliance professionals in financial services and allied industries. But he says it needs to be topped up with real world content. “You really need some face-to-face interaction and real-life case studies that relay actual experiences,” he says.

Some developers agree that this makes sense. “E-learning is good for a general overview but not so good for the detail,” says Martin.

“The best approach is blended, so you can amplify the detail. Sometimes we’ll use classroom training and then an online course for the assessment.”

Supplementary training, whether online or classroom-based, can be used after a base level has been reached by staff who’ve done an initial online course.

BT took this approach with its Winning through Compliance e-learning initiative, produced with Fuel, and which has educated 100,000 BT staffand contractors in regulatory compliance.

“Much of the regulatory compliance requirement is about individuals understanding several factors about the environment they work in and the particulars of circumstances they may face,” says Laura Reid, head of BT regulatory compliance training.

“With so many variables, the mandatory training seeks to provide a base-level awareness whilehighlighting those areas of greater risk. People in these areas receive supplementary training to cover the specific issues pertinent to their role.”

Equipping employers

E-learning continues to have its critics but it is hard to imagine how many organisations would manage the burden of compliance without it.

Some companies may be ticking the box regardless of whether they know the training has been effective or not, but the online environment has at least given organisations a tool with which they can reach a base level of compliance across their workforces on which to build. And, in doing so, they will be giving themselves more than a fighting chance of not falling foul to an increasingly regulated world.

by Sue Weekes

Case study: Scottish Power

Utility company Scottish Power commissioned Brighton-based e-learning developer Brightwave to develop an online discrimination awareness portal to support its employee relations policy. It was also a response to last October’s Employment Equality (Age) Regulations.

The portal features two e-learning modules and it links to the firm’s intranet.

One of the modules features a video narrative filmed at Shoreham Power Station and deals with key areas of potential discrimination. These include age, religion, disability, race, gender and sexual orientation. This has been rolled out to all Scottish Power employees and usage is tracked by the portal.

An additional online manager’s guide was also created, based on scenarios featured in the e-learning modules.

“It will largely be our managers who need to identify and handle situations where there may be the possibility of discrimination in the workplace,” says Joyce Thomson, senior project consultant at Scottish Power. “The e-learning modules will help to reinforce their understanding of Scottish Power’s procedures for dealing with these kinds of situations and raise awareness of our managers’ responsibility to avoid discrimination in the workplace.”

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