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3 minute read ·

If online compliance training is so awful, why do you still do it?

You probably do not like online compliance training.

This is true whether you are a compliance professional or just someone assigned to take it. Everyone complains about online compliance training and its conventions. 

For example, if this blog post was online compliance training...


You would have to log into a different website to read it.  

It would require a separate password, which of course you can’t remember. When you use the password reset link, the email goes to your spam folder. And when you finally find it, you have to double-check that it’s legit because it looks like a phishing email anyway.


You would have to click through three screens telling you how important it is to read blog posts before you actually got to the content.  

At least one screen would have a glamour shot of your CEO with a quote about the importance of reading blogs that someone on your communications team wrote for them.

A message from your CEO

You would have to listen to a voiceover read the words on the screen. 

Like, the exact words on the screen. You cannot turn this off.


You would have to click a button every three paragraphs to make sure you were still reading.

You can just click the buttons without reading anything—so if you actually do want to read the post, this annoys you to no end.

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You would have to watch a video for no clear reason.

The video could easily be two sentences of text, but it's there in case you're a millennial, because millennials will only pay attention to video. Kind of like how baby boomers will only pay attention to something if there is a Beach Boys song playing in the background.

(Wait. No? Then perhaps this is not the right way to think about millennials either.)


You would have to take a quiz at the end of the post.

It is impossible to fail the quiz and you get infinite attempts at passing it. You get a certificate to print out for completing the quiz.



Virtually everyone reading this will have had this kind of experience with online compliance training. 

And yet you probably still give it to your employees.



Using an LMS ≠ online training.

The most common answer is “because you have to do online training to deliver and track it.”

Except no, you don’t.

Because that statement confuses what a Learning Management System does and what online training does. They are not the same thing.

An LMS is a software tool you use to distribute and track training. You use it to avoid keeping records in Excel and make your lawyers happy. 

Online training is one type of training that can be displayed in an LMS. But you should also be able to use your LMS to deliver handouts, policies, and other documents—and track that they have been delivered—without online training modules.

Your LMS is like the Postal Service

To use an analogy, your LMS is like a postal service: It delivers content and lets you track if someone gets it.

And online training is like requiring your mailman to read a letter to the recipient, ask every few minutes if they’re still paying attention, and then hide the letter in a tree so it's hard to find if they want to hear it again.

And sure, you can do that. But it would be a better idea to just confirm that they received it and let them read (and re-read) it on their own.


The other major justification for online training is that it lets you track how people click around in a module or score on a quiz. But that generally captures retention of knowledge … which isn't really your goal. 

Because don't forget: compliance is a pass/fail, open-book test. You do *not* get extra credit by forcing your employees to memorize things. That's not your goal.

Instead, your goal is compliant behavior, and you measure that through monitoring and audits. That’s why those are part of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines and not “giving compliance quizzes.”

It's a better idea to give your employees resources that they can look at when doing their work—instead of hiding it away in an online module they'll only access once.

(But don't take my word for it. Check your LMS records. See how many people logged back into your online modules after completing them.) 

So, again: why are you doing online training?


Whatever you do, know why you're doing it.

I am deliberately not answering my question here.

I could give some examples of when you should definitely use online training (they exist), but that's not the goal of this post.

The goal of this post is to get you to realize that most compliance training conventions have zero connection to reality. They are sold to you as bells and whistles without any explanation of why they are actually beneficial to your employees.

And I want you to break out of just asking what everyone else is doing and think critically about whether something makes sense for your employees.

Because the stakes here are high. Most of your employees will only interact with you through your training.

And they all have the same question: why?

Why do I have to do this?

What does it have to be in this format?

Why can't it be shorter?

Why can't I read it on my own?

If your training gives employees the impression that you haven't thought those through, they will come away thinking that you don’t really understand what you’re trying to accomplish—or that you're just checking a box.

And if they think that, they’re *definitely* not going to come to you to report an issue or ask for advice.

So, one last time: if you’re doing online training, why?

Make sure you have a great reason.


Want more insight into thoughtful approaches to compliance training? Check out our interview with the Department of Justice’s former in-house compliance expert.

Collage of pages of interview with former DOJ in-house compliance expert Hui ChenDownload the interview here!