Creative compliance does exist!

Creative compliance is not the oxymoron that it may first appear, says Matt Brewer. He shares his practical hints and tips to invigorate your compliance eLearning.

Boring, poorly designed compliance eLearning is something that really bothers me….Why? Well eLearning in general (and compliance eLearning in particular) is often coated with a veneer of chronic dullness, even before the creator or presenter has had a chance to explain the subject matter in their own way. Learners, viewers, audiences etc. often have a wall of preconceptions built in their minds for them by countless previous dull experiences, where little thought has been put into the creative side. Lack of time, resources or an assumption that ‘I’m just not very creative’ are regularly cited as excuses, but that’s an easy way into creative apathy – or ‘crapathy’ as I’ve called it in the past.

What is the end result? Well for a lot of people (especially in financial services) their introduction to compliance starts about 30 minutes after they’ve sat at their desk on their first day in the job, when they’re presented with a list of customary, mandatory compliance courses to complete: anti-money laundering, data protection, financial crime, competition law, health and safety, economic sanctions, treating customers fairly….. have I lost you yet?!

Can we break the cycle? Absolutely. Do we need to have access to the latest tech, tools and methods to do it? It’ll admit that it would be lovely to have the newest stuff to play with, but I’m yet to come across an organisation with a ‘money’s no object’ approach to learning. I’m also more of a fan of using what we have already, but to better effect. So here are a few ideas that I’ve either used or seen/heard about, and what their possible effects may be:

  • Ask the stakeholders what the objective is

    If all they want are some stats to show a governing body that the required number of staff have answered some questions on a topic correctly, then a document and an online test may be all they need. Try to convince them of the need to do things properly (i.e. so learners can apply what they’ve learned to their role, thereby changing behaviours) but if that’s a no-go, keep things simple.


    Speak to IT

    Learning and development and IT haven’t always had the rosiest of relationships, but there really isn’t much point in designing for video, social or mobile outputs if your IT infrastructure can’t actually handle it. Show them the sort of thing you’d like to create, as it’s quite possible they may know of alternative methods or tools enabling you to achieve similar results.


    Think marketing

    Consider how you’re going to communicate/publicise whatever you’re going to create. Find out the branding options that you need to work with and how flexible they are e.g. can you use the brand colours with different levels of transparency?


    Take an action mapping approach

    This is a process which starts by identifying the performance problem, avoiding ‘solutioneering’ and then designing challenging simulations rather than information presentations. Find out more about how to do this on Cathy Moore’s excellent blog.


    Is it going to be a one-off module or part of a longer programme?

    If it’s a one-off, I’d be tempted to break it into smaller modules anyway and develop an on-going campaign around them.


    Drip-feed information to the learners in the run-up to the launch date

    e.g. Give a couple of examples you want to address or introduce the main characters who will appear in a scenario.


    Continue to communicate

    Continue to communicate about the programme in the weeks following the launch by giving out updates or tips. This helps keep the topic(s) in the minds of the learners.


    Drop the ‘At the end of this module, you will have learned’

    This list of dull objectives is massively presumptuous, impossible to quantify and only acts as a lazy fall-back for the creator when the stakeholders ask them what the outcomes will be. I seriously doubt anyone reads them anyway… While you’re at it, I’d also drop the page(s) of instructions on how to navigate the module.


    Drop the focus on helping the company avoid big fines

    Instead, with compliance modules, focus on how the bad-practice being addressed could ultimately affect your customers.


    Get a subscription to an image site

    Or better still, check with marketing to see if you can use theirs.


    Fill the screen with the image

    Check out books by Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte – they’re aimed at presentations but also apply to eLearning:

    • Avoid the usual overly-happy businesspeople pictures
    • Take pictures of your workplace and even the people in it. I’ve done both of these and the effect is far greater than using stock photos.
    • Don’t forget the image editing capabilities of PowerPoint e.g. removing backgrounds, recolouring, effects etc.

    Use video if possible

    Why not try the Common Craft style or interactive video. I’ve tried both using tools I already had, such as Captivate, an old video camera and my kitchen whiteboard, and they work well. Or check out VideoScribe for creating short explainer animations.


    Try and use the ‘cliff-hanger’ technique

    If you’re launching compliance eLearning as multiple, smaller modules, try and use the ‘cliff-hanger’ technique i.e. consider staggering their launch and ending each one with a cliff-hanger scenario that will be addressed in the next ‘episode’.


    Don’t try to cram in everything

    e.g. Every method, effect or interaction into every module just because you can.


    Similarly, don’t try to cram in every last bit of information

    …just because the subject matter expert wants it there. If it makes more sense to point the learners to curated materials elsewhere, do it.

Above all, think about what you would like to see if you were going to be on the receiving end of the programme. If you see yourself skipping through to the end as quickly as possible, you can’t assume others will be any different.

Ultimately, ‘creatively compliant’ doesn’t have to be the oxymoron that it may first appear!

About Matt Brewer

Matt Brewer is the IT Training Manager at Markel International, and is responsible for systems training for employees outside the US, collaborating with the business, talent management and US-based teams with a view to changing the learning landscape. He’s been heavily involved with the design and creation of online learning since 2003. Whilst his main area is technology training, he has also created and run many soft skills, compliance and technical insurance modules – the online ones were mainly created using tools such as Captivate, VideoScribe and Audition. Whether it’s online or classroom training, presenting, communications or documentation, Matt believes that creativity and instructional design can make or break a learning project.


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