Is this how compliance training should be done?

“What kind of training is this?”
“COMPLIANCE TRAINING, SIR!”
(Boom-chaka-laka, boom-chaka-laka, boom-chaka-laka, boom!)

I’ve recently taken on a new “adventure” working for a large pharmaceutical company. Now, I’ve worked for pharmaceutical companies before, but it’s been more than 20 years since my last job in the industry. One of the things I’ve been getting bombarded with in the past few weeks is that I have to do a lot of compliance training. This is not the first time I’ve had to do compliance training.

In the last two full-time positions I held, I had to do compliance training in the finance and chemical safety fields, even though my position had nothing to do with the everyday responsibilities of creating and handling chemicals, or handling financial transactions of any kind. But, because of strict regulatory rules on the international, federal, and state levels, I have to do this training. It’s the same with the pharmaceutical field, since that’s yet another highly regulated field.

Now, I will say this much–because of the work that I’ve been hired to do, there actually were several pieces of the compliance courses that applied to me, so that was fine. No matter where you go, especially if you work for a very large corporation, whether you are an employee or contingent worker/consultant (which I always am the latter), you still have to take all these compliance courses regardless of your position in the company to comply with all these regulatory groups. It’s just par for the course.

The information is usually incredibly dry, boring, and lifeless information–at least for me. It’s usually just a course that covers various policies, and you have to pass some sort of quiz to “certify” and help the company be in compliance with these regulatory rules. The courses are usually (but not always, as I’ll explain in a moment) a flat narrative that’s done in Captivate or Articulate, with small little quizzes in between to help you review and retain the information for the final test at the end. Considering that the information is usually so boring, and you may have several hours of it ahead, I usually don’t mind this training because usually there’s a narrator reading the information while showing some images relating to the topic, and it makes it easier for me to remember so I can pass the test.

After having already done four hours of compliance training and passing the test with a 97% (I missed one question) during my first week, I was given additional training that had to be done in the next few days. Of the nine courses I was given to do, only one was an Articulate course (I know it was because the server name in the URL said “articulate.com” in it), and that one made sense, and definitely applied to me.

However, the other eight courses I was given weren’t really courses at all. Since these “courses” were all handled on an LMS (learning management system),  I thought I’d be jumping into legitimate courses. I was sadly mistaken. Each of these “courses” was simply the SOP (standard of procedure) policy document that I was expected to read in depth. All these documents were not written in plain English in a user-friendly format. They all were in legal-ese or pharma-talk–or both. This made the process of reading them a little harder for me to digest. Additionally, while there were only two or three documents that were less than ten pages, most were well over twenty pages–even over thirty pages for one or two of the documents. Some documents had a summary at the end, to which I thought, “Why didn’t they just show this at the beginning of the document? Then the rest of it would’ve made sense!” But most did not. With all of these eight documents, there wasn’t any kind of assessment to see if I understood the material. I just had to provide an electronic signature at the end that I read the material.

While I did my best to diligently read the material, it was much worse than dealing with the boring interactive courses. And other than me signing something electronically to say that I had, indeed, read the material, there was no way for the company to know if I understood it.  Much of this could’ve easily been short Captivate/Articulate courses that would have not only made the information a tiny bit more interesting, but also there could be a way to assess that there was some semblance of comprehension.

Somewhere along the line, I had read later that in some instances, companies are in compliance as long as they have a policy and that each worker has read the policy and signed off that they read the policy. That sounds easy enough–read the material, and sign that you read it, and you’re done. But is that right?

I thought about this a lot after I finished this second round of compliance training, because reading almost 130 pages of technical jibberish on mostly common sense policies wore me out.  I also felt that something was terribly wrong about this procedure.  I might not have ended up doing instructional design as I originally set out to do when I started in tech comm (see early posts of TechCommGeekMom), but there were circumstances that bothered me about training employees this way, especially if they had to adhere to regulatory compliance training.

The first thing that came to my head was that as bothersome and boring as they were (sorry, instructional designers), the interactive courses were better. Students could see examples more clearly from images, for example. Or, in my case, seeing images, reading words, and hearing a voice read the technical gobbledygook connected with me better than reading pages and pages and pages of long-winded text.  I partially blame my own abilities to learn this way because of my own learning disabilities, but at the same time–am I alone? I’m sure there are some out there who would rather read lots of text to understand information, but I have found that adding multimedia has always made a difference in learning.

I started to wonder if I was an anomaly in finding that I learn better this way. I know there are entire books, courses, and university degrees dedicated to this topic–what’s the best way to teach an adult? Is it any different than teaching a child or youth? Is reading text better than e-learning instances? Is reading text better than having an interactive, multimedia experience? In the case of the documents, I found that I was easily bored by the material to the point that I was more easily distracted, making me only skim the pages rather than read them in great detail after a while–especially with the thirty-page documents.  It’s good that the company has policies on specific topics that are available for employees to read, but can employees easily relate to the policy information? How can we ensure that? Is just having them read the policy enough?

To say the least, I was rather disappointed with this method of training of reading text and electronically signing that I completed the reading. My own studies in e-learning made me realize how we are lucky to live in an age where we can make use of voice, images, video, and other multimedia tools that can help enhance the learning process, and in effect, allow learners to better retain the information by making it more relatable–even the boring, compliance information. I’ll bet that I still retain some of the information about financial transaction handling and chemical safety in the inner recesses of my brain because of interactive training. I remember much of what I just learned about drug safety and marketing compliance from my initial training.  But what was in those documents. Don’t remember. Not a clue. I think much of it was the same as the stuff in the original compliance training, which also made me question why I had to do it again when I passed that original training. But was reading text and signing effective training? No. Did it fulfill compliance rules? Yes.

thatsthefactjackWhether it’s this company I’m at, or other companies, having workers understand regulatory compliance policies is important. They are procedures that keep us safe physically and ethically to ensure the best standards for all. So why not take the time to ensure that ALL policies that you feel are important are delivered in a way that helps to insure that employees understand ALL the information? That just seems like common sense to me.

What do you think? What are your experiences with these types of corporate or compliance training? What kind of learning worked best for you? Should companies put a good effort to make all the learning more learning-accessible? Add your comments below!

About TechCommGeekMom

Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who has recently started her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, and BASF North America, with a background in content strategy, web content management, social media, project management, e-learning, and client services. Danielle is best known in the technical communications world for her blog, TechCommGeekMom.com, which has continued to flourish since it was launched during her graduate studies at NJIT in 2012. She has presented webinars and seminars for Adobe, the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the IEEE ProComm, TCUK (ISTC) and at Drexel University’s eLearning Conference. She has written articles for the STC Intercom, STC Notebook, the Content Rules blog, and The Content Wrangler as well. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/daniellemvillegas, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog.
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