Tag: compliance training

Objections to Stories for Learning

“Not everyone can be a storyteller.”

“Stories are a waste of learners’ time.”

“Stories don’t work for all kinds of training.”

Have you heard any of these objections? Maybe you’ve even raised some of these objections yourself. Here’s how I would respond to each of these objections.

Objections to Stories for Learning

“Not everyone can be a storyteller.”

Imagine you’re on the phone with someone explaining a bad day and everything went wrong. What happened first that made it a bad day? What happened next? What did you do about it? How did you feel? Did anything change by the end of the day?

Can you imagine yourself telling the story of a bad day? Congratulations–you’re a storyteller! We tell stories about ourselves all the time. We explain our lives in narrative form.

No one is born a storyteller. Telling stories is a skill like anything else. You can develop it with practice and training. Maybe you’ll never write the “great American novel,” but that’s not what you need for creating stories for learning. You need specific skills for creating relevant stories to meet learning goals. Stories for learning are often short, maybe even only a few sentences long.

You CAN learn to be a better storyteller. This is a skill like anything else. With practice, feedback, and the right strategies, you can improve your story writing skills.

“Stories are a waste of learners’ time.”

In a LinkedIn group discussion, someone (we’ll call him “T”) argued, “Learners aren’t there to be entertained. They have a very low tolerance for time-wasting content. If you include games or stories, use them sparingly, and don’t patronize your learner.”

First, I think it’s arguable whether or not learners want to be entertained. However, I think it’s fair to say that learners primarily want to accomplish a goal or solve a problem. We should use stories when they help us meet our objectives. If a story doesn’t support the objectives (or distracts from the objectives), we shouldn’t use it.

Stories can be a waste of learners’ time. “T” shared an example of content with a pirate theme that had nothing to do with the course content. Learners had to click 12 times to get through the intro story before they got to any substance. I agree with “T” on this example; that’s a waste of time. It’s a flashy wrapper around content. It doesn’t add context or relevance.

If you’re going to use stories, focus on how they can help you meet your learning objectives. That might mean using stories as examples or mini-scenarios for assessment. You have a range of options for storytelling available; pick the kind of story that best meets your objectives. Make your stories relevant, not just flashy distractions.

“Stories don’t work for all kinds of training.”

Stories aren’t always appropriate or necessary, but they can work in most kinds of training. For example, software training can use stories for motivation, to show why certain features are used, or to model the thought process of using the program.

For compliance training, every regulation, rule, or policy has a reason behind it. (It may not be a great reason, but set that aside for now.) Chances are, the rule exists because someone broke it. What are the consequences? Why does it matter if people follow the rule?

In compliance training, you can use stories to show people the consequences of violating policies rather than just telling them. You could start by showing a disaster or accident to hook learners in the story. After the intro, go back in time. Show the sequence of events and decisions that led to things getting so bad.

A fantastic example of this is The Lab from the Office of Research Integrity (Flash required). Ethics in research is a topic that could be dry and boring, but this brings it to life and shows the real long-term consequences of decisions. The very first words in the video are “It was a bad day.” You see a reporter questioning someone about questionable lab results. In this branching scenario, you have an opportunity to go back in time to undo the mistakes and avoid the public scandal. Even if you don’t have the budget for something at this level, you can use this worst case scenario strategy.

You can also set up a scenario where learners have to make a decision following the policy. Use the story to give them motivation to look up the relevant rules.

Other Objections?

What other objections do you hear or have to using stories to support learning? How do you respond to objections? Tell me in the comments.

Image: Storyblocks (7-day free trial, unlimited downloads $149/year)

Protagonists Should Be Like Your Learners

When you write a story for learning, you need a few essential elements such as a protagonist (the main character), the protagonist’s goal, and the challenges the protagonist faces. The protagonist should be someone your learners identify with. In workplace learning, that means the character has the same or a similar job as the learners. The learners should recognize the problems the character is dealing with and ideally share the protagonist’s goal. Learners should see a bit of themselves in the characters in your scenarios so they can picture themselves making the same kinds of decisions. When learners identify with your protagonist, they care about what happens to the character. They may be emotionally invested in seeing the protagonist succeed, especially in complex scenarios.

Joan is designing her first branching scenario

Example Protagonist Selection

Let’s review an example. Joan is an instructional designer working on a branching scenario. She has designed and developed many courses in the past, but this is the first time she has used a nonlinear format. She’s feeling a little nervous about getting it right. She’s creating training for front-line managers on how to handle requests for reasonable accommodations for disabilities. Which character should Joan use as the protagonist for her scenario?

  1. Mark, a technical writer with mobility issues who requires assistive technology
  2. Luisa, the VP of HR and an expert in accessibility issues
  3. Cindy, a manager with a team of 8 direct reports

Feedback on Your Choice

Mark would be a good choice for protagonist if this course were for employees to learn how to request reasonable accommodation. Someone like Luisa might be your SME for a course, but she has much more expertise than Joan’s learners. Cindy is a manager, which puts her in the same role as the learners. Joan will be able to put Cindy into situations similar to those managers might encounter. That will allow the learners to practice making the kinds of decisions they need to make in their jobs.

Other Characteristics

Joan might also be able to give Cindy other characteristics that make her similar to her learners. As part of her needs analysis, Joan interviewed two managers who had been through the process themselves. Both managers expressed reluctance to consult HR with questions about accommodations, even in situations where that was the best decision. Joan decides to create an option in the branching scenario where Cindy tries to handle the problem herself without HR but causes a costly misstep. Joan builds into the scenario the possibility of checking with HR before each decision and rewards that action with points in the final score.

Example compliance training with options to look up information

(This example scenario is also used in Motivating Learners to Look Up Compliance Policies Themselves.)

Joan3Stepping Back

At the risk of getting a little too meta, think back to Joan, the instructional designer. When you read that she was nervous about creating her first branching scenario, did that strike a chord with you? If you’re thinking about how to create your first scenario, that probably resonates. Even if you have created many branching scenarios in your career, you might still remember what it felt like to be unsure of yourself. If you’re an ID, you can probably envision yourself in this scenario. That gives you a connection to the character and helps engage you. You as the reader want to pick the right protagonist in the example so Joan’s course will be successful.

Characters in Cultural Context

Keep the culture of the workplace in mind as well. Your protagonist and other characters should reflect the organizational culture. In his report Using Culturally, Linguistically, and Situationally Relevant Scenarios, Dr. Will Thalheimer recommends:

In simulating workplace cues, consider the range of cues that your learners will pay attention to in their work, including background objects, people and their facial expressions, language cues, and cultural referents…

Utilize culturally-appropriate objects, backgrounds, actors, and narrators in creating your scenarios. Consider not just ethnicity, but the many aspects of culture, including such things as socio-economics, education, international experience, immersion in popular culture, age, etc.

Thalheimer’s recommendations from his research are also summarized on his blog.

How have you made your protagonists similar to your learners? Have you ever seen an attempt at scenario-based learning that was unsuccessful because the learners couldn’t identify with the main character?

Image credits

Motivating Learners to Look Up Compliance Policies Themselves

In my last post, I explained how starting compliance training with a worst-case scenario can engage learners right from the start. Setting the course up with a scenario helps learners understand why the policies matter. In this post, I’ll explain a technique for keeping learners engaged throughout the course. Instead of being so boring that employees just want to click through a course as quickly as possible, this strategy gives learners a reason to actively seek out policy information and better understand it.

Let’s say you’re creating training for managers on providing reasonable accommodations for disabilities. A typical elearning compliance course on reasonable accommodations would start with a history of the ADA, ADAAA, Civil Rights Act, etc. (Readers outside the US, substitute your own laws about disabilities.) You might compare how the laws have evolved over time, define the terminology, and list some common reasonable accommodations you could provide. All of that is “pushing” content to learners. The learners are passive receptacles for content. You as the instructional designer control what content is delivered, in what order, and how quickly. The learners don’t make any decisions, and they don’t have any reason to dig deeper into the content.

You could flip the whole course around though, so instead of pushing content to learners, you let them “pull” what they need. The trick is that you have to give them a reason to need the information. In this example, Simon asks his manager, Cindy, for time off after a surgery. This is a plausible situation managers might find themselves in where the right answer might not be obvious. The managers have to make a decision: to grant the time off or not.

In this scenario, you could just offer the two choices: grant the time off or not. I’m putting them in this situation to give them a reason to look up the policy though, so I have two more choices below: “Ask HR” and “Review Policy.” The “Ask HR” option leads to a conversation with an HR specialist explaining the policy and providing advice.

Example compliance training with options to look up information

You might choose to only have one option for explaining the policy, either just reading it or asking another character for advice. If you only have the option of reading the policy, it’s helpful to include an explanation, especially if the original is written in very formal or legal language. You can provide the original and the explanation side-by-side, or you might just provide the explanation. If you will provide a job aid about the policy, use that in the course so learners practice with that tool. If in the real situation they won’t have a job aid but you want them to consult HR or another person, build that into the scenario. As much as possible, make the way learners access policy information in your course similar to how they will access it on the job.

I first saw this technique many years ago in an example by Allen Interactions. The training is described as “learner-centric” in Michael Allen’s Guide to E-Learning. You can see a short preview on Google Books with screenshots of the training. I’m sure the second edition of the book (to be published this summer) will have an updated example, but the strategy from that original example is still excellent. In that example, learners could talk to their manager, coworkers, HR or the Employee Assistance Program manager to learn more. This was an elaborate, multi-step example where learners earned points each time they asked for advice, so they were rewarded for seeking out information.

Although Cathy Moore’s Connect with Haji Kamal isn’t compliance training, it also demonstrates the technique of having characters ask for advice. Learners need to “pull” information and actively seek it out rather than passively waiting for the course to “push” it to them.

Even if you used mini-scenarios instead of complex branching scenarios, you could still use this technique to motivate your learners to look up the policies themselves. If they have a reason to seek out and immediately apply the information, they’re more likely to remember those policies when similar situations happen on the job.

Have you ever used this technique in your training? Do you see possibilities for improving your compliance training? Tell me about your experiences in the comments.

Image credits

This course example is also used in Protagonists Should Be Like Your Learners.

Make Learners Care about Compliance Training

Compliance training is a common use for elearning. All those policies and regulations that affect our businesses need to be trained. Unfortunately, compliance training is often just a content dump with a narrator basically reading the policy, followed by some multiple choice questions to see if learners remember what they heard 5 minutes earlier. This training can be so boring that organizations have to offer bribes (you’ll be entered in a drawing!) or threats (failure to complete this training may result in termination) to cajole employees into completing the courses.  In many cases, companies don’t even really seem to care if employees’ behavior changes due to the training. They just want to check a box that says, “we provided training” to cover themselves legally.

What if you could create compliance training that learners actually wanted to complete? What if you could create courses that did more than check a box, that actually increased the odds that employees would follow the policy? What if you could create compliance training that engaged employees so much that they would actually seek out policy information themselves, rather than just waiting for it to be spoon fed to them?

Worst Case Scenario

If you’re training food production workers on personal hygiene policies, you could simply list the rules. However, just telling people the rules isn’t always enough to convince people to follow them. Have you ever driven faster than the speed limit—even when you knew what the limit was? Instead of focusing on just the policies and regulation in abstract, engaging compliance training focuses on when employees need to follow those policies and why they matter. Start with an example of what can happen if they don’t follow the policies. In the case of food safety, it’s easy to imagine a worst case scenario with a nationwide food recall.

Fictional Headline: Nationwide Food Recall Affects Thousands

With ethics training, that worst case scenario might be a scandal that causes a company’s stock to drop. With safety training, it could be an injury. For security training, it could be a breach that results in data loss and all the ramifications from that. For any compliance training topic, there’s a consequence if the policy isn’t followed. That consequence can be your opening scenario that draws your learners into the story and gets them emotionally involved.

A great example of this technique is The Lab: Avoiding Research Misconduct. This is an interactive video you can play from the perspective of different characters. The story starts with “a very bad day,” where news reporters are interviewing a supervisor about misconduct. Right from the start, you see the consequences of poor decisions. As a learner, you get the opportunity to go back in time to see how those decisions were made and try to avert disaster.

You might not have the resources to hire actors and film scenarios in multiple locations like this, but you could still provide this kind of setup. It’s easy to mock up a newspaper headline like the one above or a fake website screenshot with trending news. If your worst case scenario would be internal, like an employee losing sales or being placed on a performance improvement plan, even a photo of an unhappy manager with voice over or text explaining the consequences can be effective.

The worst case scenario gets learners attention because it shows them why the policy or regulation matters. Instead of the compliance training being just a box to check off, it’s teaching them how to be a hero and prevent a disaster. It’s important to show these consequences and not just tell them. Simply telling people, “Failure to comply with personal hygiene policies could result in a food recall,” doesn’t have the same emotional impact as showing them a fake headline about a recall for contamination.

Starting with a worst case scenario is the “why” for a policy. In my next post, I’ll explain how to focus on the “when” in your compliance training so employees recognize situations in which the policies apply.

Selling Storytelling in Learning

I got a call from a prospective client looking to hire an instructional designer.

“Tell me about what you’re looking for,” I said.

"Story Road"

“Well, I have a classroom training program I’d like to convert to online. It’s a course on pregnancy discrimination. Our company has added a ton of specifics about this to our employee handbook, so it’s important everyone’s aware of the new policy. We’ve already got the slides built, so it just needs to be converted to an online format. Everything’s all in the text on the slides.”

I suspect this needs a lot more than just converting existing slides, and I’m not convinced that making people aware of the policy is really going to meet his goals. “Hmm…how is that classroom training working for you so far?”

“It’s OK, I guess. We only have two trainers who can deliver it though, and they just can’t train everyone in the company. We’re spending a lot of money on travel for people to come to our main office too. If we can do it online, we can cut those travel costs, and our trainers don’t have to spend so much time on this one course.”

“That sounds like a great motivation for moving this course online. Tell me about the course itself. Is it mostly lecture, or do you have some activities or role plays or anything?”

“It’s pretty much all lecture. We always avoid doing role plays for issues of discrimination to avoid insulting someone. We don’t want people practicing bad behavior, you know? It’s too uncomfortable to pretend you’re discriminating in front of a room full of people.”

“OK, I understand where you’re coming from. How are you measuring the effectiveness of this training?”

“Just a smile sheet.”

“And how have the results been from that evaluation?”

“Fine, but not great. There’s been some grumbling that it’s kind of a boring course, but it’s compliance training–what are you going to do?”

“Actually, there’s several things we could do. Have you ever considered using a scenario-based approach to your e-learning?”

“What do you mean?”

“Instead of having just slides with bullet points and audio explaining the policy, what if we created a story about a woman who is pregnant? We can put learners in situations where they have to make decisions about how to treat her. Rather than pushing the policy information to them all at once, learners can look up the specific information they need depending on where they are in the scenario. That gives them the motivation to find the information, instead of it being forced on them.”

“That sounds interesting. How exactly would that work?”

“Let’s see…have your problems in this area been more with managers or coworkers discriminating?”

“We’ve had a couple of accusations of managers discriminating. Some of it was related to hiring, and some of it was related to making accommodations for employees who either have more physical demands in their job or work with toxic chemicals.”

“What if we had a scenario with a manager with a pregnant employee on the team? We can set it up with points in the story where learners have to help the manager decide what action to take. We’d give them a few choices based on your past incidents or common misunderstandings about the policy. Maybe there’s an issue where managers cut back on someone’s hours trying to be helpful and make it easier for a woman during her pregnancy, but the woman can actually handle the hours fine if she just has a stool to sit on instead of needing to stand all day.”

“That sounds more interesting than what we’re doing in the training now. What happens if they make the wrong choice?”

“Ideally, I prefer to show people the consequences of their actions rather than simply telling them. Which do you think is more memorable–multiple choice feedback saying, ‘Sorry, that’s incorrect. You have violated section 5.3 of the employee handbook,” or ‘Peg from HR knocks on your office door. She wants to discuss why you declined to make an accommodation for Rhonda during her pregnancy’?”

“The second one, definitely. I get that feeling of being called to the principal’s office in school just imagining it.”

“And that emotional reaction is part of what makes this approach work. It draws people into the story so they’re more engaged during the course, plus it sticks with them longer afterwards.”

“OK, I’m starting to understand.”

“Great. Let’s go back to the topic of evaluation. You mentioned earlier that you need your employees to be aware of the policy. Is that really the goal here, or do you really want to reduce the number of complaints and incidents?”

“Well, obviously we want to reduce the complaints. That’s the ultimate goal.”

“Do you have any statistics on how many complaints you’ve had in the past? It would be great to have a concrete business measurement to work towards.”

“I don’t have those numbers, but I’m sure I could get them from HR.”

“That would be terrific. If you get those numbers, we can set a goal for reducing those complaints and really show what difference this training makes.”

“OK, I can do that. What’s our next step?”

“Let’s talk about some more details…”

This is fictionalized, but it gives an idea of  how a conversation with a client could go to convince them to use storytelling in their course. Have you been successful in selling storytelling or scenario-based learning? How have you made this an appealing approach?

Image credit: Story Road by umjanedoan