Addressing The Great Organisational Learning Debate: Employee Sovereignty vs Compliance E-Learning

Street sign providing 3 alternatives to travelOne of the great debates we see in organisations is between the will or sovereignty of the individual versus the corporate desire for conformity – for staff to comply with corporate strategy and execution. Sometimes Learning and Development find ourselves caught in the middle – wanting to inspire employees through engaging experiences yet instructed (or at least highly encouraged) to create the minimum required to be able to say content has been delivered – it’s now up to staff to apply.

This is particularly true in e-learning. There is a tension between giving people freedom to be self-selecting in what they learn, versus the systematic management that Learning Management Systems (LMS) imply in a corporate culture.

Given the increasing complexity in the corporate world, the fast pace of information redundancy and renewal, it is attractive to ‘shovel’ content to out to staff via the trackable means of a LMS. Desperately we hope content sticks into memory, although without coaching conversations and multiple exposure of content, there is a good chance content won’t stick. In fact, there is a good chance all the learner will do is click Next…Next…Next…as quickly as possible to get the e-learning course done and ticked off.

And, if you give staff choice to read a document, watch a video or complete an e-learn at their own free will, they probably won’t. Everyone is just too busy.

How to raise new information to consciousness, preserve sovereignty and reduce the requirement for compliance e-learning

Here are a few ideas. I’m sure there are more….

  1. Employ the right staff. Look for those who are inherently self-directed and have good skills in information management.
  2. Give staff time to hear about, learn and assimilate new information. This may be in the form of toolbox talks, weekly meeting, or an acknowledgement that reading the intranet forms part of a genuine work.
  3. Enlist the role of managers. Explain their role in ensuring staff prioritise new information and change habit as information and processes become redundant. Give managers a briefing or ‘cheat sheet’ so that they can execute their role as simply as possible.
  4. Take a lead from marketing and write simple content. Make it easy to assimilate and digest. Use visual interest. Keep to key messages and remove extraneous information – people will access the detail when the imperative arises, and not before (this is the difference between ‘just-in-case’ and ‘just-in-time’ learning)
  5. Be sure to model the new information or skills yourself, and enlist mentors – it’s amazing how contageous watching the behaviour of others can be.
  6. Use the walls around you to reinforce key messages on a pster or whiteboard. Be sure to renew it weekly, or it simply becomes ignored.
  7. Prioritise information going out to staff – don’t waste valuable ‘air time’ on unimportant stuff.
  8. Understand employee workflow and embed new information at the point of need.

Take this kind of approach to providing staff with new content and processes, and they are more likely to be self-directing and self-governing. Lead them. Make it easy for them. This enables employees to maintain their sovereignty, and reduces the requirement to shovel content out via a LMS.

Got other ideas to add to this list? Please feel free to share your ideas using comments.

4 Responses
  1. Ara Ohanian

    Alison, compliance training is always going to be necessary in some organizations. Try running a financial institution without compliance training and you won’t get far. The important thing is to ensure that the compliance training is done as creatively and engagingly as possible and that the design of non-compliance training is allowed the full rein of creativity.

  2. Allison Rossett (@arossett)

    Of course, we see that tension in the US too. We want staff to be self-governing and independent, just as much as is possible. The issue is what defines the possible.

    Some of it is individuals and their ability to be self-directed, motivated and persistent. But of even more importance now is the amped up compliance environment in which we live. Much is expected of organizations. Regulations pile up, manifesting in new and intense ways in organizations as diverse as financial institutions, hospitals and even higher education.

    Workplace learning professionals find themselves on the front lines here and it is much trickier than how trusting we want to be, how much we want people to manager their own learning and performance, and how eager we are for more informal methods. We have to get beyond our inclinations to make decisions based on all that is expected of our organizations and people. Are outcomes defined and in what detail? Who defines these outcomes and attests to their accuracy and timeliness? Must competence be proved?

    Perhaps your readers would enjoy experimenting with an instrument we built to help professionals think more systematically about these matters. It’s free.

    And we published about these matters in ASTD’s T&D:

    Hope these resources are useful for you.

    Allison Rossett

    1. Alison Bickford

      Hello Allison. Thank you so much for your considered comment. I am a big fan of yours since attending your AITD workshop on your Performance Analysis methodology in Sydney back in April 2010 ( ). I appreciate your methodical and pragmatic approach to doing what we (practitioners) have to do. Thank you for bringing your new resources to my attention. I will mention them in my e-newsletter. Alison.

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