Header Image - 3 Ways to Avoid Designing Boring Compliance Training

Compliance training: learners dread taking it and training teams dread creating it since it’s dense and difficult to reimagine into something more engaging. Is there any hope of creating compliance training that’s not a snoozefest?

Above and beyond the dry nature of the material, compliance training poses a few unique design challenges that increase the odds of ending up with a dull, droning course–even if you’re doing your best to avoid that outcome. Some of these design challenges include:

  • The goal of training is to demonstrate your company’s compliance with the law, not to change people’s behavior. Unlike other types of business training, such as those that focus on changing employee behavior to improve their job performance, the point of doing compliance training is to mitigate risk and demonstrate compliance with the law. While many companies don’t like to acknowledge it, their primary measure of compliance training success are course completions or passing quiz scores, not reduced safety incidents or enhanced employee vigilance.
  • The training content doesn’t really change. Unlike training topics that shift from year to year or season to season, compliance training is based on policies and laws that rarely change. That means your training audience sees the same information year after year.
  • Compliance training isn’t given the same time, budget, and resources as other types of business-critical training. Especially in organizations that hold a “check the box” mentality around compliance training, odds are you simply don't have the same budget and resources as you do for other types of training. And when you’re forced to create training on the cheap, you usually get what you pay for: courses that are lower in quality and lack realistic scenarios, immersive and interactive videos, and other engaging elements.

In short, when you’re working with difficult material, very little creative latitude, and almost no time or budget, it all adds up to boring training! No wonder compliance training is so universally dreaded. Thankfully, I’ve rounded up some clever compliance training tips that can help. 

Tip #1: Focus on managing cognitive load

One of my favorite instructional design pros, Julie Dirksen, often says, “The job of an instructional designer is to ruthlessly manage cognitive load.”

When it comes to compliance training’s repetitive, dense nature, this advice could not be more helpful. After all, we know people only have so much time and attention to pay to any type of training. That means compliance training should make good use of those limited resources by being succinct and relevant. 

To that end, here are a few pointers that can help:

  • Keep your content laser-focused on the highest risk and most misunderstood or mishandled information. Your audience wants you to help them navigate the murky gray areas of policies and regulations—especially the ones that put themselves, their coworkers, or the entire company at risk. Use compliance training as an opportunity to invite learners to explore and learn from their mistakes in a safe space where the stakes are low.
  • Move all of the deep history and legalese out of your course, or at least into a format that’s easier for learners to read and absorb. After all, is knowing the date that the Bank Secrecy Act was first signed into law really going to help workers spot a potentially fraudulent transaction? Nope.
  • Grab your learner’s attention right from the start by putting an assessment at the beginning of the course. People love seeing for themselves what areas they need to improve upon.

Tip #2: Invite learners into the story

One of the most powerful and engaging ways to present dos and don’ts content is to transform it into a branched scenario that puts your learner into the story. Ideally, you’ll want to create a scenario that allows learners to get feedback on their choices or, even better, experience the consequences of their decisions as they go along. Here’s an inspiring example of a health and safety course from Josh Goodswen that does a nice job of involving the learner and providing feedback on their choices:

animated gift of a health and safety training course example using scenarios

One caution when going with the scenario-based route: try to make sure your scenarios aren’t using over-the-top, absurd situations with obvious solutions. The point is to engage—not enrage—your learners!

Tip #3: Make Creative Use of Visuals

Tight or nonexistent budgets can make gathering the right visuals for compliance training a little challenging. Here are some tips and workarounds:

  • When you’re searching Content Library 360 for accent images, try using terms that evoke a tone, rather than a literal depiction of concepts. For instance, if you’re trying to find an image that shows someone dealing with workplace harassment, use search terms that evoke the frustration and isolation of being in that situation. This search technique not only gives you more images to choose from, but it’s helpful for avoiding stereotypical depictions. For more image-searching power tips, check out this article.
  • Get creative with characters. If you’re not finding just the right character images for a scenario, try using illustrated characters like these, using silhouettes of people, or going super-abstract and creating a course with anthropomorphic characters.

What’s your biggest challenge with compliance training, and how did you overcome it? Leave a comment below and tell me about the creative ways you’ve jazzed up dry or boring content. I’d love to learn from you!

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5 Comments
miguel contreras
Leonard Puglia

We've started to build our compliance courses with pre-assessments. The learner gets to try a 3-4 question pre-assessment before having to complete the content. If they pass the pre-assessment, they are able to 'skip' the content. We typically break up the content into topics which they access from a menu. This way we can run a pre-assessment for each topic. If the learner is able to pass all of the pre-assessments, they are marked as complete without having to do the content. We provide only 1 chance for each pre-assessment. If the learner doesn't get 100% for it, they are then directed to the content and then a more comprehensive assessment at the end of each topic. The premise we operate on is that the content rarely changes and most learners bring some assumed knowledge to th... Expand