What is compliance training?

Susan Hurrell
Woman smiling slightly with brown, chin-length hair and glasses.
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Remember that old song, “I fought the law and the law won?” Now that I’ve got your ear sufficiently wormed, let’s talk about compliance training.

What is compliance training?

That is the training your team needs to take and review regularly. Training completions are monitored, audited, imposed, and regulated, most often by an outside agency. Some corporate training may also have to meet internal compliance standards, monitored by your Learning and Development team, Health and Safety Officer, CLO (Chief Learning Officer), or another person with appropriate oversight.

Fail to meet compliance requirements, and your worker can’t work, your production is slowed down, or perhaps you’re even shut down until you get everyone back up to speed. No one wants the headlines that can create. The internal or external regulators will always win, no matter how hard you try to slide by under the wire.

Not that you’d do that – of course, you want to be compliant. You want to ensure your workers are appropriately trained because effective training saves lives, improves performance, increases productivity, ensures output – and meets regulatory standards. You have a vested interest in being compliant.  

The challenge with compliance training 

Training ensures that your employees meet the mandatory training requirements as determined by your company, set by law, by industry regulators, or by professional licensing or certification bodies. Some regulations require that compliance training gets renewed at regular intervals – usually annually. 

Back in the day, maybe when that song I mentioned above was popular, sometimes compliance training could be as simple as

  • giving them pages to read or PDFs to review or 
  • plunking your team down in front of the same old training video or 
  • making them listen to some instructor-led training.

Then you’d check the box that their training was refreshed and they met compliance requirements. They might even have to retake a long-form course delivered through your learning management system that they’ve taken every year. So they tune out, confident that they know enough to pass whatever test they have to pass, and return to work. 

Your employees may complain about having their regular workflow interrupted by these annual blocks of what is, to them, unnecessary retraining.  It might be hours or days out of their life. Worse, they may not know about the evolving regulatory landscape, where the proof is literally in the pudding.

Chart of general compliance training statistics. From top to bottom: 23% of organizations have no formal compliance training plan; 40% of companies rate their compliance training as basic or reactive; 70% of organizations attempt to measure the effectiveness of their compliance program; $14.8 million is the average annual cost (approximately) from companies that experience non-compliance issues.

Meanwhile, your training administrators have to keep track of who has the right compliance training levels and ensure they get re-enrolled before their license or certification expires. Once everyone is enrolled, the admins must monitor that the training was completed as assigned. Oh yeah – did anyone check that the courses are still up to date? I hope so. 

It’s a big recurring pain in the neck for everyone involved. Accuracy was only as good as the spreadsheet. 

Moving your compliance training online can help your training administrator more easily manage their compliance-related workload. Online tools and delivery methods specific to compliance training can make regular reviews of training content part of the learning workflow. The benefits of compliance training are obvious – you do business as usual. But how do you offer compliance training online?  

Delivering compliance training online

You may already be offering onboarding, reskilling, and upskilling training to your team using a learning management system (LMS). Compliance training is just another dish on the training buffet. Why go to all this work? 

Efficient, consistent training

Online training is highly efficient and effective, reducing costs and providing documented transparency about learner engagement and training outcomes. Course materials can be easily updated, and the new training is delivered to every employee, removing ambiguity caused by out-of-date courses and performance supports (P.S. Don’t forget to update your performance supports when you update your courses!) Online training also scales as your organization grows – you don’t need to add more trainers, book larger rooms, or print more documents (that will be out of date before you know it.) 

You may even be able to deliver your compliance test through your LMS – where it can be proctored, time-monitored, and provide absolute documentation about training delivery.

Your training administrators will love you!

Hopefully, your learning management system will be robust enough that your training administrators can assign your employees to critical learning paths based on your employees' roles or responsibilities. Even more powerful would be an LMS that just renewed everyone into their learning plan annually – automatically. 

No more spreadsheets, calendar reminders, or running reports to determine who needs what compliance training next. Let the LMS do the heavy lifting for you.

A 7-step process to move compliance training online

Timeline made of numbered circles numbered from one to seven, showing the seven steps to moving your compliance training online. From left to right: 1. Review requirements; 2. Perform a training audit; 3. Develop required content; 4. Build eLearning module(s); 5. Assign module(s) to learners; 6. Set expectations for learners; 7. Review the data (regularly).

To produce and deliver effective compliance training online, your learning and development team will need to do the following: 

  1. Review and understand all the regulatory requirements your learners need to learn. 
  2. Perform a training audit to find out what content you already have that covers the required material and determine your learners' knowledge gaps. This audit minimizes the chance that you will rebuild existing content unnecessarily and will ensure that your content meets your learning objectives based on current employee understanding. 
  3. Compare your list against any testing or exams to ensure that all the content that needs to be developed has been to help your learners pass the regulatory exam. 
  4. Build out one or more eLearning modules to introduce all the mandatory skills and knowledge.
  5. Determine the learners required to take this training, and assign them appropriately. Use any automated learning plans or recurring training tools your LMS may have to reduce the administrative burden.
  6. Ensure that your learners are properly trained on accessing the courses and the expectations for engagement and completion – especially if daily drip training is included to supplement less frequent long-form learning. (more on that below.) 
  7. Review the data regularly before any regulatory audit to ensure your learners are progressing properly with adequate knowledge retention

Your learners may take the long-form training once a year – but engage in daily workflow training to improve retention. All this data is used to demonstrate your corporate and individual compliance. We recommend pairing your initial training delivery with a strategy for building long-term knowledge retention to reduce risk and maximize your investment in annual training. Continuous, drip-delivered microlearning is a popular and effective way to do this. It increases learners’ ability to recall and apply what they’ve learned in their comprehensive annual training modules. I’ll expand on that with a story in a paragraph or two. 

The changing landscape of compliance training

I’ve already talked about your team having to sit through the same old video course, either in a classroom or through your LMS – and tuning out because they think they’ll know enough to pass the test. And as long as they pass, they’re certified and able to conduct business as usual. But can they recall the fine points of the training – say a health and safety protocol – when they need that info? Compliance training is increasingly becoming focused on retention, not attendance. 

Infographic of stats. From top to bottom: 44% of financial services employees say they don't feel well-equipped to protect themselves or their company following mandatory compliance training; 70% of compliance training is over 30 minutes long; 18% is over an hour long; 15% click through without reading or listening; 34% say they only skim the content or tune in/out to audio.

Warning! It’s not enough to enroll your employees in annual training modules and ensure they complete the training. Regulators and auditors increasingly seek evidence that compliance training is effective. 

For example, the U.S. Department of Justice has advised prosecutors to assess “the adequacy and effectiveness” of an organization’s compliance training when determining whether to pursue a legal claim against the organization. 

That means you might have to prove, in a court of law, that your compliance training was adequate, effective, retained, and put into use, should there be an unfortunate incident where lack of compliance may be to blame. And no one wants those kinds of headlines. 

When you use the tools in your eLearning ecosystem to deliver compliance training, you have some definite advantages over past so-called “best practices.” 

Supplement or replace annual review with daily training

I know, I just talked about using your LMS to deliver annual training, and I stand by that.  It’s a great first step – your LMS should be the cornerstone of your training castle. However, let’s talk about retention.

Here’s the scenario.

Joan is a Grade A Certified Widget Maker. Joan reviews the (same old) material as assigned yearly, costing her a day or two of productivity. She always passes the exam. Sometimes she squeaks by, but sometimes she aces it. It doesn’t matter – Joan stays certified.

According to the compliance course content, there are 100 facts Joan needs to know. There are twenty questions on the compliance exam. That touches only one-fifth of the total knowledge she has been asked to acquire. To pass the test and retain her license as a Grade A Widget Maker, Joan needs to score 80% on her compliance exam. That means she only needs to get 16 questions correct.

The new math says that she is certified to demonstrate that she knows 16% of the total compliance training content to retain her certification.

That seems crazy. This is a perfect real-life example (names changed to protect the innocent) of why the Department of Justice is looking at compliance differently. 

Infographic comparison of annual and daily compliance training programs. The title on the top half of the image reads: "Compliance program: Annual. Several hours per day times 1-2 days per year." Below the title are three blocks, in a horizontal row, comprised of 100 question marks. The first block shows all question marks greyed out and is titled, "100 pieces of information." The middle block shows the top-left 1/4 (25) of the question marks shaded with black with the rest remaining grey, and is titled, "Compliance course with 25 questions." The third block shows the question marks that were black are now coloured. Four rows (20 question marks) are now green with checkmarks, and the last row (5 question marks) are red with an X. It is titled, "Course has 80% pass rate." Splitting the image in half is a red banner that says, "This means learners understand 20% of your total training material." Beneath this is the second title, "Compliance program: Daily. 5 minutes per day times 240 working days (approximately) equals 2.5 days total." Below the title are two blocks, made up of 100 question marks, identical to the first half of the image. The first one is all grey, with the title, "100 pieces of information." The block beside it now shows that all grey question marks are changed green checkmarks, and is titled, "100% of the info is exercised over the year."  Next to it is a box that says, "Is knowing the extra 80% of the training worth an additional half a day a year to your organization?" (Source: https://www.td.org/press-release/financial-institution-employees-boast-high-annual-training-hours)

Imagine a brave new world where Joan gets two minutes of training every day, touching on one or two of those 100 facts she needs to have at her fingertips to be considered compliant. It’s just part of her daily workflow and not at all interrupting her productivity. She answers the questions and starts to see that there are areas she knows less well than others. Questions on those subjects come up more often in her daily training until she achieves competency. Over the year, she and her boss can prove that she closed her knowledge gaps and retained 100% of the information she was asked to learn. 

Who’s a real Grade A Certified Widget Maker now? That would be Joan – 100% compliant with her regulatory standard.

Don’t get caught with your compliance down

Compliance is just part of life – especially when it comes to regulated industries. It ensures consistent standards, reduces risks, and creates a level playing field – no cutting corners to save money by skipping steps. No one wants to fly on an airplane held together with glue vs. rivets. But glue is so much cheaper… You take my point. That extra regulated turn of a wrench that ensures the wheels don’t fall off may save lives.

How you deliver compliance training will either increase or reduce your corporate risk. Fail to deliver measurable, meaningful compliance training to your team, and you risk work slowdowns or stoppages. Deliver exemplary compliance training to your team, increase productivity, worker engagement, and enjoyment, and reduce your liability – because you can potentially prove your workers knew 100% of their material – not just 16%. 

Online training, especially supplemented with microlearning, can do that for you. Make you an industry leader and a major competitor in your field. And everyone wants to see those headlines. 

If you’re wondering how compliance training can fit with other types of training, check out our articles on our introduction to online training page. We have many great resources to help you get started with online training and move your compliance training online.

Woman smiling slightly with brown, chin-length hair and glasses.
Susan Hurrell

With 15+ years of online marketing and online learning experience, Susan loves to share insights about where these two ROI-building practices can intersect and complement each other for your business or organization.

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