Employees have a fatigue problem — online learning fatigue, to be precise. They’re burned out on e-learning, and are saying so.
The trouble is, when it comes to ethics and compliance education, the stakes are high. It determines whether or not employees understand their obligations for responsible conduct and whether, when they are faced with legal risk or ethical temptation, they will remember the company’s code of conduct and act in a way consistent with the company’s core values. Companies these days increasingly want to ensure the highest standards of behavior to build ethical corporate cultures and even out-behave the competition, but online learning fatigue in ethics and compliance education can seriously undermine the employees’ commitment to that goal.
It’s a serious problem. For its 2011 Ethics and Compliance Leadership Survey, ethics and compliance management and education service provider LRN asked the ethics and compliance leaders at 107 companies to identify their significant education issues. A majority named online training fatigue. Almost two-thirds saw a related challenge in making training feel relevant to learners.
The solution is self-evident. First, to be most effective and avoid fatigue, compliance and ethics education must be engaging. Second, it is more engaging to experience multiple media rather than just one source. Therefore, to be effective and engaging, an organization cannot rely solely on e-learning.
This logic in favor of blended learning — using multiple channels to support corporate ethics and compliance education — is not new. But just because blended learning is a logical aim, it does not necessary follow that every program is hitting that target. With so many options, and so little in the budget, it’s easy for one’s strategic reach to exceed one’s tactical grasp. But the road to blended ethics education that is effective and engaging, rather than fatiguing, has a whole different look these days, especially when new communications channels make it easier than ever to avoid putting all of one’s eggs in the online education basket. Progressive companies are using:
Truly multimedia and multichannel: Leading companies are realizing their learning function should look much more like an ad agency or media company, and less like an HR or legal department. After all, the ethics and compliance education program is selling something: the organization’s core values and the behaviors that serve them, as well as the critical concept that the collective behavior of every employee is a big part of the organization’s brand value.
Consider Allstate, for example. The insurance company runs humorous TV ads with Mr. Mayhem and other ads with actor Dennis Haysbert. Similarly, in its ethics education, Allstate blends online learning with team-based, moderated discussions based on experiential learning kits that make live learning interactive, consistent and scalable — putting middle managers in the beneficial position of being seen as ethics leaders.
Good social skills: If the goal is to begin adding other media and forms of messages to the usual diet of online courses, there is little easier or more cost-effective than using the company’s existing communication channels, such as newsletters, email and social networking tools. Dell used its internal social network to involve its employees in rewriting the company’s code of ethics. Johnson & Johnson has used its regular corporate email to push out messages and information that reference and reinforce earlier training.
The recipe for this kind of reinforcement can start with a screen shot of an evocative moment from an e-learning course, dropped into an email, adding text that posits an open-ended question based on that scene or that repeats key learning points, and clicking send. The result is what marketers call multiple impressions — cementing key concepts through repetition.
But it should be remembered that the medium is still the message and each medium has its own effect on the employees who receive it — and may or may not fit with a particular corporate culture. For example, Twitter is a public information stream. Its plus is that corporate Twitter messages can be seen easily, in the same medium employees use to keep up on other goings-on. To use a more private channel may be more appropriate, but that will sacrifice ease of access.
E-learning isn’t everything: They say even a diet of nothing but chocolate ice cream gets boring. So little wonder that a learning diet composed only of online courses creates learning fatigue. A second problem with relying heavily on e-learning, according to the LRN annual survey, is that most ethics and compliance leaders have a limited amount of time that their companies allot to online training.
E-learning is still a thing: Do leave some eggs in the e-learning basket. E-learning is too efficient, too easy to keep consistent, and too fast to deploy and update to abandon. When used correctly, e-learning can be compelling, dramatic and inspiring.
Be an orchestra leader: Deploying multiple messages across multiple channels means more things to do, and probably not with a multiplying staff. It is a task that requires the deftness of a musical conductor and arranger, producing the right notes with the right instruments at the right time, all harmonized to the best effect. It’s a reality that puts a real premium on having an ethics and compliance provider who offers integrated solutions — online and experiential education, tools for reinforcement, assessments and consultative services — and who can help integrate them. The only sound alternative is daunting: doing all that integration in-house.
Ironically, however, as a program relies less exclusively on e-learning, it may rely more on its delivery technology: the learning management system (LMS). The more messages and interactions there are to track, the more a company may want to demonstrate to regulators the lengths to which the program goes. In the new reality, an LMS should be a tool for all that.
Elevate: A multichannel approach is not just the best way to teach. It is the best way to achieve the goal identified by almost 70 percent of those LRN surveyed: aligning core company values to day-to-day operations. A blended approach is the best way to elevate behavior and to empower teams to out-behave the competition.
The new truth is that an organization’s ethics, culture and reputation are its central competitive assets. All of which makes one final point about what ethics education looks like today: The learning team is more than just a place for the company to get a course. Now, it’s a critical partner in the pursuit of business success.
Jason B. Meyer is the senior leader of LRN Inc.’s education solutions. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.