Checking the Box at the Big Box Store

I’ve worked on developing e-learning for 20 years. By chance, I recently had my worst fears confirmed about how much of it is delivered and absorbed. My new iWatch needed a special screen protector, so I went to a big box retailer, bought the best shield I could find, and discovered I had to wait 20 minutes to have it installed.

My service rep directed me to a small rectangular corner of the store with four simple office chairs each facing a computer screen mounted on the wall. I thought it was a thoughtful convenience for customers, until an employee wearing her company branded shirt sat down next to me, one cubicle over.

She turned on the computer in front of her and began to quickly click from screen to screen to screen. She knew how to work that mouse. This went on a few minutes; I wondered what sites she was visiting. I looked over and saw a short paragraph of text and what appeared to be multiple questions. She looked at the text, tapped her mouse, and kept that up ceaselessly as each new screen appeared.

I had to interrupt.

“Is that that a company course you’re taking?” I asked.

“Yes, it’s annual compliance training” she said. “I’m on break and I’ve got to get through this”.

I realize she had limited time and did not want to be distracted, but I just had to know. “Are you learning anything?” I asked.

“Well – all I know is I’ve got to get this done.” Her gaze stayed fixed on the screen through our brief conversation.

I didn’t want to intrude but my curiosity took over. “Last question, I promise,” I said. “What did your manager say to you about this course?”

“He said I have to get it done.”

“Did he say anything else?” I asked.

“He said it’s interesting.”

She returned to her screen resuming her click by click cadence. And I kept quiet until I got my watch back a few minutes later.

I believe what I saw is the essence of check-the-box training. Her employer released a course (which I’m sure contained accurate, important information), said everyone had to take it, and set a deadline.

“Well – all I know is I’ve got to get this done.” Her gaze stayed fixed on the screen through our brief conversation.

That is exactly what this employee did. She met the deadline. And her employer could say she had received and completed required programming.

Get the bonus content: 4 Signs Your Civility Training is Too Passive

But what’s that worth? Did she understand key concepts? Could she apply learning content to her daily work? Would she remember what she had learned beyond the close of business that day? I have no idea—and doubt the answer is yes because research has shown that learning retention and application in the workplace has more to do with the employer’s commitment to what is being taught, the design of the program, engaged leaders communicating the significance of key points regularly, and providing on the job links to real world application.

When workplace misbehavior can cause irreparable reputational harm and create risks for co-workers and the public, using technology to document delivery of information without real regard to understanding key lessons and driving ongoing behavioral change is a waste of organizational assets and a gross misunderstanding of what effective learning and prudent risk management are all about.

To see lasting results, you need to provide online learning along with leadership commitment, communication and reinforcement – the same as other important initiatives. No organization simply provides check-the-box training for processes that are business necessities—sales, manufacturing, billing. Compliance standards and workplace behavior should not be any different.

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