Learning versus Rules and Regulation Training

Summary: Corporate eLearning can be divided into two categories: learning and "rules and regulations" training. This article talks about the differences between the two categories, why the distinction is so important, and the key challenges in developing good Rules and Regs training.

Learning versus Rules and Regs training. Which are you offering your staff?

What is Rules & Regs training?Think about the process of learning. It's all about expanding and developing. About making the learner consider and adopt new ways of doing things. It's about giving the learner more options to choose from.Now think about your corporate Workplace Health & Safety training (or any other training that you expect most staff to complete). Does personal growth occur as a result of this training? Do people come out of the training thinking 'wow, I've got some great ideas and I can't wait to try them out'There are some kinds of training that involve very little learning. Instead they involve absorbing information. We gather together a collection of information (often a list of "You must" and 'You must not' statements), and then we present it to our audience and expect them to absorb the information and hopefully comply with it.In my mind this is how I categorize between learning and "Rules & Regs":

Learning Rules & Regs
Objectives Expand the range of possible actions you can take in a situation Explain the only, or most acceptable, action to take in a situation
Examples Soft skills trainingAdvanced software trainingCommunication and interaction Compliance trainingBasic software trainingPolicy, process and procedure
Who wants the training to happen? The learner A business unit (e.g. HR Department, Policy team) or executive
Learner experience Engaging and interesting (with some exceptions) Dull and boring (with some exceptions)

Why should we care about Rules & Regs training?Most Rules & Regs training is boring. Think about it: when was the last time you had interesting training on a matter of policy or legislation? And because this training is boring, a lot of the key messages are missed or forgotten. And this isn’t good because Rules & Regs training is usually important. After all, you need to know the rules before you can break them. Similarly you often cannot participate in a more engaging learning training session without first understanding the key principles of the topic.Why are learning and Rules & Regs differentThe objective of all training is to give people information that they will later recall, with the expectation that this recall will have an impact on their behaviour. For example, I want you to remember where the fire exits are so that you can remember it when the fire alarm goes off and exit the building safely.In order for a person to later recall information, it must successfully make it into their memory. And in order to that the person must perceive the information, understand it, and care about it.The necessary components of successful trainingFigure 1: The necessary components of successful trainingThis is the same for learning and Rules & Regs. What is different is that with learning activities people generally have more interest in the topic because they choose to learn about it. They therefore have more interest, which means they pay more attention. The only real risk to absorbing the information is that it’s more complex, so the understanding can be at risk.But with Rules & Regs people generally don’t care about the topic. They therefore don’t pay attention to the information. So even if the topic is easy to understand, they will not absorb the information.The challenge of Rules and Regs trainingFigure 2: The challenge of Rules & Regs trainingSo with Rules & Regs training our primary focus in design and development needs to be in explaining WHY the topic is important to the person. Until you do that, the chances of them absorbing the key points are extremely low.How do you sell Rules & Regs training to participants?All of that makes sense in theory; but how do you do it in practice? How do you sell the importance of a compliance or policy topic to your organisation? It isn’t easy, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. But here are some ideas that might get you started.

  1. Look for organization-specific or region-specific information.For example, include statistics on the most common WH&S incidents in your state or city.  Or give a specific example of someone not following a policy (without naming names) and the consequences for your organization.
  2. Highlight ways this topic can save time and energy.For example, good record-keeping can save you having to trawl through network drives looking for a specific document. Or following a specific policy might make a process faster for a specific team.
  3. Ask people to put themselves in a situation where something has gone wrong.For example “how would you feel if your private information was leaked to the media” or “how would you feel as a customer if you realized we were sending out products that failed 20% of the time”.

What if the topic really, really isn’t interesting?If you really can’t think of a good reason why your audience should care about the topic, the question becomes: why are you even training them on it? If there is no personal relevance to them, why do they need the information?Sometimes people ask for training for the wrong reasons. For example because it’s a “legislative requirement”. Or because they haven’t taken the time to identify exactly who in the organization really needs the information. You might also want to read my post on Four Reasons Why eLearning Should Never Be Compulsory for more thoughts on this topic.Consider that you have a certain amount of ‘attention capital’ to spend on each person. They only have a finite amount of attention to give you, and the amount of attention they allocate is based on their previous experience of how valuable your information is to them.

Attention CapitalFigure 3: Attention CapitalGive a person information that isn’t relevant, and you squander valuable attention capital, and reduce the amount of attention that person will give you in the future - even if future topics are highly relevant to them.If you constantly ask people to pay attention to topics of little relevance or interest, your attention capital loses value. People will come to ignore your training completely because they have learnt that there is no value to them in paying attention.When it comes to Rules & Regs training, the golden rule is to only provide it if there is a very good reason to do so, and the information is of value to the audience. Don’t jeopardise your future training initiatives by asking people to waste time on pointless, irrelevant content.