The Rapid Elearning Blog

compliance training

Last week we looked at some of the issues with compliance-based elearning and how taking a different approach to its design can save your organization time and money.  And of course an additional benefit is that it makes your employees happier.  There are a number of good comments to the post and some ideas that you can explore.

Many times, how we approach building our compliance training is based on hearsay or regulatory urban legends.  So we end up with bloated and time consuming courses that only serve the purposes of sleep-deprived insomniacs.

One of the key points of last week’s post was to contact your legal department and find out what are the real requirements for your organization.  Then build your training around them rather than what you think the regulations say.

The ideal is to meet your compliance needs and at the same time identify legitimate gaps in understanding.  This allows you to address those gaps and provide the type of intervention that gets people up to the desired skill and performance level.

While there are many ways to design your elearning courses, today’s post features three simple strategies that will help you meet your certification needs and get your people back to work.

1. Create a Pre-Assessment

Put the certification test at the beginning of your course.  Make it a very comprehensive assessment so that you can truly identify their knowledge and skill level.  If the user passes the test, he jumps to the end and is certified.  If the user doesn’t pass, then you direct him to the course where he can get remedial training and additional assistance.

Keep in mind that even though it’s an assessment doesn’t mean it has to be a standard multiple choice or true/false quiz.  You can do an assessment as a series of case studies or scenarios, as well as a traditional quiz.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - preassess your learners

How you design the assessment and course is up to you.  You can use a simple linear approach, or create a dynamic scenario-based process.  It really doesn’t matter.  The point is that even if you use a simple structure like this, you can make the assessment more than a click-and-read process and, instead, make it as engaging as you want.

2. Empower the User

The first idea is to create the assessment up front and then direct the user based on the assessment result.  While it is a simple approach and easy to design, this can be intimidating for some users.  Here’s a way to soften it up and empower them at the same time.

Instead of just starting with the assessment, give the user a choice.  Tell them that they can go through the course and at any time they like, attempt to take the assessment.  Then unlock the course so the user can navigate it and see what’s covered.

Think of it this way.  You go to a book store and look through the pages of a good book on elearning.  Most likely, you’ll look at the table of contents, and then perhaps go to the index and look for specific areas of interest.  If you’re visual, you’ll flip through the pages to see what type of illustrations and examples are in the book.  It’s your way of assessing the book’s value and relevance.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - would you like to take the assessment now?

In a similar sense, when it comes to elearning courses, many people like to skim through the course content to get a sense of what’s in it.  Once they see the content and how it’s laid out, they get a sense of what they know and can determine if they need the course or not to help them pass the assessment.  This is why it’s important to unlock the course and give the learners room to explore.

Remember, these are courses for people who most likely already know the content and just need to demonstrate it and be certified.  It’s kind of like an experienced driver getting a new license.  The driver doesn’t need to take a driving class.  Instead, she takes a driver’s test.  If she passes, she gets a license.  If she can’t pass the test, she takes a class and practices until she can.

Using this approach lets the user see what’s required and mentally assess what he does or doesn’t know.  He can jump into a few sections to test his knowledge and comfort level and then take the assessment at any time.  In addition, odds are that he will self-assess and identify the area where he needs to know more and then review those sections.

3. Break the Content into Sections

Even if you can create courses with pre-tests, I’ve found that some organizations still won’t do it.  They’ll still request a formal “course.”  I’ve had customers tell me that even if people already know the information, it doesn’t hurt them to go through the course anyway.  I assume they think the information is going to stick to the learners like a static cling sock right out of the dryer.

In addition, some customers just aren’t comfortable with this type of approach where the user can self-navigate and choose when to take the assessment.  They don’t like the fact that people can test out.  Instead, they want them exposed to something that resembles a course.

While some customers shy away from a pre-test and still want a formal course, I’ve found that many are flexible enough to embrace the following approach.

Break the course content into distinct sections.  At the beginning of each section, give the user a choice to assess or go through the content.  At the end of all of the sections, do a final assessment.

You can still capture some time savings because a knowledgeable person can go through each section and test out quickly.  However, by breaking it into sections you can be more specific in the assessment process and catch areas where people might not be as fluent.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - review and assess each section

For example, if you only had one assessment for a course, a person might pass at 80% and be certified.  However, what happens if the 20% she didn’t get correct was all from the same area?  That could be a potential problem.

The advice in this post probably doesn’t work for courses where you’re trying to teach new skills.  However, if you do a lot of certification or annual refresher training, these three approaches should come in handy.

If you do something different or have an approach that you’d like to share with the community, feel free to do so.


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24 responses to “These 3 Tips Can Change Your Compliance E-learning Forever”

Late night blogging? More wonderful points. I think that some of these points are great recommendations for non-compliance materials also – especially providing the learner choices – take the quiz now, or take the course. Also, breaking the course into sections – with foreshadowing of the number and content of the section is always a good way to keep the learner from being surprised – by the wrong things 😉


Excellent tips! Any suggestions about how many times a learner can take the assessment in 1 sitting? If they fail the pre-assessment then take section 1 of the course, then decide to take the assessment/quiz, they fail, then take section 2 and take it again, and fail, etc. Any experience as to how to handle that?

These are excellent suggestions and easy to understand presentation. I need to think about Dan is saying as we teach new nursing material and for the sake of the patients we need to be sure that the students get it.

Once again Tom, you are right on. Thanks for the the well-written article. I am sure that you have a future post for us on creating effective assessments. I would like to point out the different between skill and knowledge assessments. The compliance training is mostly knowledge-based. Skill learning needs real-world performance assessment. I still believe that you should provide the learner someway to assess their skills before a course.


I completely agree with the idea of either a single test-out feature or multiple assessments. But I’m wondering if it’s possible to build this strategy into a non-linear course structure if that structure is developed in Articulate. Could you share how you would set up what you’re talking about in Articulate (or if you’ve already discussed it somewhere, could you point me to it)?

This is a great idea. My brother and I have a website that we just started adding e-learning and we hadn’t thought of adding a pre assessment to our courses. While our e-learning site is not for compliance a pre-assessment of students would allow us to direct them to the appropriate course to start with. We will definitely be adding an pre-assessment feature. Does anyone use any particular software for this? Our e-learning site is using moodle.

Thanks for the comments and feedback.

Dan: I think it really depends on the subject matter. If its not a critical subject, it probably doesn’t matter how many times. Although, I’d try to identify those people so that you can help them . On the other hand, if I was certifying someone who is running a nuclear power plant, I’d probably be more careful. We don’t want Homer Simpson messing things up for us:)

Hi Joseph:
We use ATI for our pre-assessments, but I do not know if they have more topics other than nursing.

Annette: I try not to get into specifics about software on this blog. We’re doing a series for Articulate Users in the Word of Mouth blog. In one of the posts, I’ll discuss how to do something like this. It’s fairly easy.

Here is an example that is somewhat similar, although it’s designed a little different. I used Quizmaker to create an assessment process. If the user got it right they went one way, if they got it wrong, they went another. Here’s another non-linear example using just PowerPoint.

By the way, I found that I can pre-build scenarios and branched interactions in PowerPoint and when I want one I just insert the slides and add my content. It’s pretty fast. That post is coming soon.

Joseph: you can use just about any assessment tool. I am inclined to recommend Quizmaker because it’s easy to use, integrates well with Presenter, and can also be a stand alone web assessment.

In addition, you don’t need to build a scoring assessment. You can build a branched assessment using a few screen. Choose answer A, go to the right…answer B, go to the left.

February 5th, 2008


I like the concept of a pre-assessment. It has worked well on past projects. Don’t ask me why, but some of the projects have requested a higher passing score on the pre-assessments for anyone wishing to skip taking the rest of the course. I think it may be related to having separate pre and post course assessments and wanting the pre-assessment to be shorter.

I wonder if running the course in a LMS may create challenges for people who want to use a pre-assessment approach. If the assessment and lessons are separate SCOs, then (depending upon the LMS) the student may need to complete all SCOs before the course can be marked as complete.

I think having a lesson level pre-assessment may be the better approach and easier to implement in an LMS. Like you said, having a separate assessment for each lesson makes sure that students don’t just know four out of the five key concepts. Each concept is tested individually. The students can pass out of some lessons and be required to review others. This still saves them time and delivers only the needed content.

Dan’s question about letting the student take the assessment more than one time in a single day could also become an issue. I would want to know that the student mastered the material and didn’t just remember the answers. Having the assessment generated from a larger pool of questions can help, but it is sometimes hard to create extra questions without making them either too easy or too difficult. Sometimes, I think that having a requirement that the assessments are taken a week later shows that the student has retained the information (again, this could be a challenge with some LMS.)

Another way to handle pre-assessments is to use the “pool of questions” feature of your test tool. I know that AQM has the ability to provide X questions out of a set of Y. I use this feature on some of our curriculum to keep the students “on-their-toes” when they are forced to repeat a quiz as they did not reach the minimum score.
You might use the same feature to provide some statistically sound number of questions during the pre-assessment, then if the learner does not pass the pre-assessment, they would see a different set of questions post material (different is a function of the randomness of the random number generator, and the total number of questions available).

Excellent post

Many of our clients use pre-assessments as an option for compliance training, the activity being marked as ‘complete’ when the student either meets the pass mark for the pre-assessment or successfully completes the course requirements.

Where there are concerns about exam integrity, a couple of approaches can be adopted to deter student from ‘spinning the wheel,’ accessing the exam multiple times to help work out the correct responses, or create ‘dumb’ cheat sheets i.e 1 = a, 2 = c, 3 = c, 4 = b to others.

Exam Changes

1. (as Rick points out) by using a pool of questions.

2. If you have a limited number of MC or multiple selection questions, randomise the order of the responses.

So For question 8 the answer might be ‘a’ for one student and ‘c’ for another.

Using either 1 or 2, or a combination, makes creating a create sheet difficult. (Or at least more effort than just completing the assessment!)

Exam Protocol

1. Limiting students to a reasonable number of re-sits and or imposing a minimum time period between attempts, can deter students from adopting a ‘spin the wheel’ approach.

2. Some of our clients generate notifications to the training manager/coach/manager when people exceed the allowed number of re-sits, allowing them to follow up to assist (or at least let the student know you are on to them!).

3. Others require a student to ‘apply’ for a re-sit after a nominated number of attempts and record a reason.

The re-sit approval process allows a manager to see all re-sits requested by the student or for the pre-assessment.

This information can be useful for the curriculum developer identify whether the assessment needs work or the student needs a word 😉


James Ryan
General Manager
Adviser Education Services

Excellent post!
In many situations I have found that allowing the users to “pass” the test after the beginning assessment test allows for too many holes in the training. I would have to agree though that breaking up the content into sections and allowing the user to test on those smaller sections allows for a cumulative “growth” of knowledge, which seems to “stick” longer.

Excellent to see there are people out there thinking in the same direction. We have been using this approach for quite some time, and with a huge amount of success. All our soft-skill content as well as Comptia and Microsoft content is based upon this model. Any requests for additional content is evaluated and structured based upon the objective of the course, covering the detail pertaining to the final outcomes. Our pre-assessment is available to the candidates for a period of 12 months together with the course content even after certification, allowing for ongoing training to take place. The pre-assessment is also available from prior to course day and during, as this allows the candidate to go through self-evaluation at any time. The pre-assessment is also constructed on the percentages allowed per objective and weighted accordingly. It is however important to create a database of at least 700~800 questions, allowing the testing platform to select as many questions possible per each objective.
It is quite easy to construct a pre-assessment for any type of content as long as you follow a few basic rules. One particular individual wanted to do his CTT+ without any previous exposure to training. It took him a week to do the pre-assessment, the remedial training and to get certified. This to me shows that this approach works 100%.
We have been contacted by parastatals and corporates to implement this into various areas and all of them are now saving huge amounts of time and money.
Strange though, by reading through the write-up it almost looks as we have written it ourselves.

Very good points . They are in my experience too . But always creating Pre-Assessment is hard for me and make me confused .I usually use my friends consulting for it and I can`t do it alone .

I love the idea of chunking the learning, offering pre-assessment for each chunk then remediating only that area needing it. Only I would be tempted to skip the final assessment completely. If they can pass all sectional assessments at 100%, why retest?

Paris’ comment on skills: with a coaching relationship in place w/ managers and a skills checklist/rubrick, that too can be accomodated. At least one LMS I know of allows the coach to have the skills checklist on a wireless PDA, ticking off the skills wherever, whenever performed & sending them straight to the LMS. Adding in James’ ideas on re-sit notifications to cycle the struggling elearner back to the coach/manager for personal remediation also improves the learning and the manager/staff relationships.


[…] These 3 Tips Can Change Your Compliance E-Learning Forever […]

[…] Rewards don’t have to be tangible items.  They can be simple things like affirmation and encouragement.  The main point is to connect with the learners and find a way to have them feel good about some sort of achievement in your course.  Perhaps the reward is something as simple as being able to test out of the course. […]

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This was very informative and i will apply these rules to my own program

May 20th, 2011

Great ideas, but I wanted to mention one thing. Sometimes compliance courses need to be motivational as well as informational. The real evaluation of the training isn’t the test. It’s what people do in real life. For example, a sexual harassment or diversity course needs to change behavior; it needs to help the viewer understand what it feels like to be on the other side. The level 4 evaluation is determining if there is a drop in complaints.

[…] Se la formazione non è agganciata a degli obiettivi misurabili, hai bisogno di trovare qualche altro metro, ad esempio il numero di utenti che hanno completato il corso. Puoi anche fare qualche sorta di test pre/post formazione per misurare il livello di apprendimento. […]