Compliance training: Making a case for elearning

Compliance training: face to face or elearning? Darren Hockley counters the argument of a recent TJ feature. 

In a previous article featured in the Training Journal, a case was made for moving away from elearning in favour of traditional, face-to-face compliance training. But could this be a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

It’s true that elearning can range in quality from just plain bad to the truly extraordinary, but letting poor quality (and frankly outmoded) versions of elearning blind us to its true potential seems short-sighted. Elearning can – and is – transforming compliance training and other learning and development activities for organisations around the globe.

Let’s agree: force-feeding your employees dull, legislatively focused learning-content for the sake of ticking a compliance-training box is not conducive to learning, compliance, or even consciousness in some cases! Furthermore, asking employees to repeat this same training annually seems a cruel and unusual way to motivate your organisation’s most valuable asset.

However, this is not the way all elearning works.

New trends in eLearning, although still content-led, focus more on design-techniques to enhance learner engagement, motivation, and to develop good behaviours, whilst still offering the convenience and cost-effectiveness that made elearning popular in the first place.

Far from a way to dumb-down or somehow make compliance issues less-serious, gamification is a defiant step away from the chore-like reputation that mandated training has always been stuck with.

Age old-concerns, such as elearning’s homogeny, or its passivity, have been addressed – turning what used to be the medium’s Achilles heel into one of its biggest assets.

Let’s explore this some more.

Keeping it real

What’s known in the industry as ‘Immersive elearning’, is actually a way of contextualising and adding relevance to elearning modules to bring them to life. In simple terms, immersive elearning experiences place individuals into virtual, interactive learning environments that simulate (rather than replicate) real work-place scenarios. It’s a safe, inexpensive way for users to learn from their mistakes.

Immersive elearning was conceived to link learning back to the workplace, and counter the argument that elearning denies users the opportunity to explore scenarios or focus on particular learning points.

It offers a high degree of relevance to learners’ real-life working situations and, with varying degrees of tailoring available on the market, can be a highly stimulating, engaging way to deliver training. In the future, it’s very likely that Virtual Reality (VR) will super-charge this technique, with VR technology becoming more and more affordable. 

Making it interesting

No-longer the dominion of face-to-face seminars, scenario-led learning (also known as problem-based learning) combines online training with story-telling techniques, independent-thought, and analysis to encourage learners to use information and apply it to their decision making process.

With around 2.5bn of us forecasted to own smartphones by 2019, there’s no denying that users are attracted to the technological component of digital training.

However, scenario-led elearning offers much more than modernisation: it cultivates critical thinking and problem-solving skills by weaving complex narratives into the media-rich, highly-visual environment of digital design that leaners love to use and are familiar with.

Elearning also offers organisations the option to introduce gamified elements, such as those found in video-games, to their training activities. Far from a way to dumb-down or somehow make compliance issues less-serious, gamification is a defiant step away from the chore-like reputation that mandated training has always been stuck with.

Less is more

There is such a thing as oversaturation when it comes to training activities. There’s a reason ‘annual compliance training’ is often met with a chorus of groans from employees (particularly long-serving ones) who have seen it all before.

It’s true, reports from Microsoft indicate that attention spans have fallen by an average of 33% to just eight seconds since the year 2000; one of the reasons why microlearning (short, very specific courses that are usually only a few minutes in length) has become such a phenomenon in recent years.

The compact and highly-relevant nature of microlearning combats increased distraction levels, and is proven to increase motivation and knowledge-retention in learners.


Microlearning and other elearning courses can hugely reduce the amount of unnecessary content learners have to deal with when completing compliance training. Sure, a good face-to-face trainer can adjust their pace to help someone who is struggling in the group – but what about everyone else in the room?

What about the long-serving employees who would better benefit from a quick refresh rather than half a day’s training? Elearning works to eliminate problems like these. Using online content, employees can tailor their learning environments to match their specific needs and training requirements. 

Pre-assessments can easily determine knowledge gaps and highlight relevant and new information to focus learners’ attention specifically on those areas. Innovative elearning platforms now have the power to create personalised development plans for learners or their supervisors to refer back to. 


To conclude the case for elearning, there’s room to highlight its potential as part of an integrated training programme; what is sometimes referred to as ‘blended’ learning, or learning that combines different techniques, teaching materials, and mediums.

Whilst it’s easy to see the benefits of combining different learning styles to better capture the attention and personal preference of employees, the ease at which elearning lends itself to such a flexible, personalised approach speaks to what has always been its greatest characteristic: its truly innovative, adaptable nature.

Let’s not point to high-profile compliance breaches in the media as reasons for elearning’s failure, but rather celebrate the obvious rise in awareness and intolerance levels for such lapses – and the part that elearning played in creating the ethical culture that’s responsible for the outrage (not to mention, helped give us the confidence to speak-up when we spot wrongdoings).

Whilst ‘bad’ elearning can be, at best, boring and, at worst, restrictive, ‘good’ elearning, the kind that starts conversations, encourages enthusiasm, and offers innovative solutions to age-old training challenges, could lead the way for the future of learning and development – and still look good doing it.


About the author

Darren Hockley is MD at DeltaNet International




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