Posted in Uncategorized

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!

Posted in Uncategorized

My response to RJ Jacquez’s question: Will Tablets replace PCs?

Recently, due to the upcoming release of Microsoft’s Surface machine, RJ Jacquez released two blog posts promoting the idea that tablets, in time, will indeed replace the PC as we know it, and that Microsoft is going in the wrong direction with this Surface device. Between his post titled, “For the sake of ‘Mobile’ I hope Microsoft Windows 8 and the Surface Tablet fall short” and Tablets Will Replace PCs, But Not In The Way You Think, he says that he feels that Surface is not taking us forward because it embraces the idea of adapting our devices to old software, instead of moving forward with mobile devices and rethinking how to create new productivity software for these new tablets that can make users more productive.  After paraphrasing several articles that have been out in the press that claim that productivity apps such as Microsoft Office, Photoshop, and Final Cut Pro (to name a few) are items that need to be addressed by the tablet industry, he counter argues,

Personally I think that most of these articles miss the bigger point, namely the fact that most people think that Tablets replacing our PCs will require a 1:1 task-replacement approach. I don’t buy this argument….In other words, we are currently shaping our mobile tools and soon these amazing devices, along with the incredibly creative apps that accompany them, will shape us and redefine every single task we do from here on out, including learning design, image editing, web design and yes every productivity task as well.”

I understand what he’s saying. If I’m interpreting him correctly, his argument is that devices like Surface should not be adapted to run bloated “power” software that needs the extra storage and peripherals to work, thus making the devices less mobile, but rather software should be streamlined to become more efficient so it can run in a tablet like an iPad which doesn’t need extra storage because it relies on the Cloud nor does it need any other peripherals to function. Some of the other “power” apps that RJ mentioned that critics think would need PC power include Photoshop, Microsoft OneNote and Avid Studio.

Well, I do have to agree with RJ insofar as I think that mobile is the future, and it is forcing us to really look at software and its limitations, and it’s making us think about how to streamline processes and our needs. mLearning is in the midst of a huge revolution due to that mindset right now. And actually, there are tablet versions of Photoshop, MS OneNote, and Avid Studio available for tablets that cover most of what users need. So it’s not like these kinds of software can’t be adapted for most people’s uses.  The average user does not use Word or Excel or Photoshop or other apps the same way as a power user, so streamlined apps are fine.

However, I think there may be a need–at least for a little while longer–for PCs to still exist for other kinds of “power” uses. The first thing that comes to mind are apps that are not as mainstream as the ones mentioned so far. Tech comm apps like Framemaker, RoboHelp and Flare are the first ones that come to mind. Now I know that Adobe is working to put just about all of their major software products on the cloud, so that’s a move in the right direction. I have no idea if Flare or the other leading tech comm productivity software packages are moving that way as well. The same thing with e-learning software…again, Captivate is part of Adobe’s cloud-based Technical Communications Suite 4 right now, but what about Lectora or Articulate or other instructional design software packages?  These are all software programs that aren’t quite ready for tablet use yet, but for the sake of mobile productivity, it might not be a bad idea to move in that direction. But for now, staying as desktop apps is probably fine.

There’s an app called Cloud On that has the right idea. It’s an app that’s available for both iOS and Android use, and essentially it provides a means of accessing full versions of Microsoft Office on tablet devices, and then saving documents in a Dropbox, Box or Google Drive account. No short cuts here! Full functionality of the software, on the go!

So, why aren’t the all the big software companies jumping onto the bandwagon with this? Apple already has by creating tablet versions of their iWork and iLife apps, but what others? Some companies have taken baby steps, or are working on it, and others…well, I think they are not keeping up, or are in denial that having a lean version of their software is needed.

I can say, as I mentioned, that I’ve used Cloud On, but I’ve also used my iPad’s Notes app. I used the Microsoft OneNote app on my iPad heavily last year during grad school, as I would start my homework assignment on my iPad during my lunch hour, and then sync it in my SkyDrive account so I could access it from my laptop at home to finish an assignment. I recently used Photoshop Touch on my iPad when I was too lazy to power up my laptop one night to fix a photo for a friend.  When I’ve made movies or did any digital photography projects, they’ve been done more on my iPad than on my laptop due to more affordable choices that meet my basic needs for editing.

So, my answer to RJ’s question is that I feel there will still be some apps that will need a PC to do much bigger jobs. Desktops and laptops are our workhorses right now, and you wouldn’t ask a pony to do the work of a Clydesdale horse. The PC isn’t going away anytime soon, and it will remain the hub of business and other work for some time to come. But, I agree with what RJ said, that in looking forward to the future, we need to continue to think mobile and how we can make it work so that much of these workhorse products can be made more lithe and flexible to our needs.

One last thought to put the mobile/tablet point in perspective–if you are a Star Trek fan like I am, you will have noticed that everyone carries portable devices–the size of a tablet, e-book or smartphone– to access huge databases and information, and to do much of the “heavy” information lifting for anyone aboard a starship. This was depicted on the shows well as much as 25 years ago, before the advent of tablet devices and smartphones. Think about how the various characters on the show used their devices. They would tap into a main computer device on the ship–much like we would access a network or the Cloud–to obtain information and make various calculations as needed.

It would seem to me that we are getting closer to that kind of scenario in reality, but we’re not quite there yet. We’re getting close, though!

Posted in Uncategorized

Tools? We don’t need tools. (Or do we?)

One of the things that is highly debatable in the tech comm world, as well as the e-learning and m-learning world, has to do with software.  It’s always the eternal question.

WHAT’S THE BEST SOFTWARE TO USE?

I’m here to tell you….I have no idea.

Really.

I’m not joking.

One of the regrets I have about the Masters program in technical communications I’ve been in is that while we were introduced to several different types of software, most software applications used were either free or low cost, or we’d have to use the free trial version as quickly as possible, but they were not necessarily the industry standards employers use.  If it weren’t for the fact that I would read industry magazines and look at plenty of “help wanted” ads, I wouldn’t have any idea what these software packages werethat many tech comm and e-learning professionals use. The arguments that my school made for not teaching us some of these software packages was a) it was too expensive, and b) upgrades on packages are made so often that they’d never be able to keep up with the constant upgrades.  While I understand both arguments–and they are valid ones–I don’t agree that they are doing us any favors.  I am taking classes through a technical institution, and it seems unfair that many types of similar or more expensive software packages are being purchased and licensed for the engineering students, but not for tech comm students. We can access MS Office products…and that’s about it. No Adobe. No MadCap. Nothing like that. And yet, that’s what prospective employers ask for–not only technical communication know-how, but experience using “X” software or something similar.

I know that it can be expensive, but it’s more expensive long-term not to help us learn the basics of these packages.  I’ll use the example that I’ve mentioned to some most recently. The first version of MS Word that I ever used was the very first one–Word 1.0. Yes, it was a long time ago, and I know I’m old, thanks. But the point is, I haven’t taken a training session or class on how to use Word since learning that first version. I’ve just figured out the upgrades through trial and error, like most people, but I already understood the basic concepts.  If I was taught from an “old” version of Flare, Robohelp, FrameMaker, etc. I’m sure that I would figure out the upgrade pretty quickly, since I already understand how the software program works generally. See my point?  The software packages that I just listed, and more of them, are a technical communicator’s bread and butter.  While exposure to using MS Office in a creative way, and using free products is good to understand concepts, it’s not what will help burgeoning technical communicators like myself find work. I can write storyboards, and I understand the basic principles of instructional design, but if I can’t use Captivate, Lectora or Articulate to expedite those things, then none of that matters unless there is an employer willing to either train me or let me figure out how the software works.

As I just mentioned, this applies to the e-learning and m-learning world too. If you don’t know how to use Captivate, Lectora, Articulate, or one of the other great instructional design software packages, you are up a creek.  Add the mobile factor in it, and considering that not all software packages– for e-learning or tech comm– have kept up with the mobile revolution…it really makes things difficult, to say the least.

My main argument is that if you learn one package, more than likely you can figure out the others–there’s just a slight learning curve.  Bringing back that MS Word example again, up until the time that I started using MS Word, I was a diehard WordPerfect user, and had used that for many, many years. (Okay, you can stop with the old jokes now!) Because I understood how to use WordPerfect, I understood how to do word processing, and it was just a matter of learning which types of buttons or commands were the same, and which ones were different. I haven’t used WordPerfect for many years, but I’d bet you that I could figure out whatever the latest version is, simple because I know how to use a word processor in general.

I’m not promoting any specific product here–I mean, I’m willing to learn any of them! Part of what holds me back is the cost. It’s expensive to try to buy these packages, even with my student discount when applicable. I was looking at one of these software packages just today, and for a single license it was $1000.00! Really? I supposed if I was in business for myself and I already knew the software, I could consider it an investment and make it a business write-off in my taxes the following year. But a thirty-day trial isn’t long enough in most cases, or they are limited as they will only allow you to use the product, but not save your work. Or, let’s say you have one of those thirty-day trials with full access, and you get hooked, but then you can’t afford the software. What good is any of that? You can see why this would be incredibly frustrating to a fledgling technical communicator.

So, if I am to learn any software products, and I can’t spend a fortune to buy all of them, which ones are the best to learn that would allow me to adapt to other software packages easily? Should I learn Flare, or should I learn Framemaker and Robohelp? Should I learn Captivate, Lectora or Articulate? These are all industry leaders. But for all I know, some other product might work better and be the best at teaching me how to be adaptable to all of these.

Any suggestions? Please comment!

This topic totally exhausts me.