Bad Training Can Pose a Big Risk


Learn some tips for transforming your training program                                                                                                                                                                                                        

The Typical Mandatory Training Experience

If you’ve worked in higher education, government, or the corporate world for a while, chances are you have personally experienced mandatory training that was just plain awful. Whether it was long and boring, outdated, not relevant to your role, or too generic to be useful, you probably came away from that experience with the impression that the sole reason for the training was to tick a box on a list somewhere and that your time had been wasted. Most likely, you went back to your regular work and didn’t think any more about it.

The Risk of Ineffective Training

Some might think that if the completion percentages are high enough, we have done our jobs, right? Wrong! While completion can be a big hurdle, it should not be confused with effectiveness. Ineffective training exposes your institution and your employees to significant risks. Here are a few examples:

  • Safety Risks: Compliance training is often focused on issues related to campus safety, including sexual harassment and assault, discrimination, and violence prevention. Poor training in these areas can leave students, faculty, and staff vulnerable to harm.
  • Legal Liability and Financial Risk: Institutions of higher education are subject to a wide range of federal and state regulations related to issues such as student privacy, employee relations, and financial aid. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in legal action, including fines, lawsuits, and loss of accreditation. The internal and external costs associated with investigation and remediation can be substantial as well.
  • Reputational Damage: News of compliance failures spreads like wildfire through social media outlets and can damage an institution’s reputation. This can impact everything from student enrollment to faculty recruitment.

Good Training Requires Personalization

The US Department of Justice has provided lots of guidance on the topic of what they are looking for in a successful training program and most of it can be summarized by saying that a blanket approach isn’t enough. Good training should be based on the risks specific to your institution and should be targeted at the individuals who are part of managing those risks. It should allow learners to ask questions, and it should be regularly evaluated to ensure that it is having the desired outcomes.

Let’s Transform Your Training

What is a compliance or risk professional to do if they have inherited a lackluster training program? Here are seven tips to help you transform your training:

  1. Align training to the risks that are specific to your organization. Review your institution’s most recent compliance risk assessment to identify areas that need improvement and emphasize those topics in your training.
  2. Identify the appropriate target audience and tailor the message to their role. Sometimes this may mean providing additional content to supervisors or decision makers or customizing the language for faculty vs. staff.
  3. Think creatively. Training doesn’t have to be delivered in a classroom or through an e-learning course. Sometimes a well-placed reminder or checklist can do wonders to encourage compliance, especially for processes that only come around once in a while.
  4. Ask for feedback and use it to refine your approach. Learners can provide valuable insights to help improve your program, but to keep them motivated, you must show that you are incorporating their suggestions whenever possible.
  5. If you are utilizing e-learning (and I’d be shocked if you aren’t), consider creating your own training modules. This allows you to have complete control over the message and gives you the opportunity to make the content speak directly to policies and procedures at your institution. There have been great advances in software over the last few years that have made it much easier to get started. If you can create a slide deck, you can create a simple e-learning course.
  6. Training is more than a one-time event. If you want the message to sink in, it has to be reinforced through multiple avenues. You might start with an e-learning assignment, but what can you do to follow up? Many learning management systems allow you to send a reminder email a set amount of time after a course is completed. Utilize campus-wide communication outlets to share reminder content. Provide leadership with talking points. Incorporate reminder notes into login screens or dashboards for relevant systems.
  7. Document the results. The goal of effective training is to change behaviors. Set goals and track metrics to show the progress that you’ve made.

Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your training program won’t be either. Focus on high-risk areas and easy fixes first. It may take a few training cycles to start to see the results that you want, so hang in there!


By Jennifer Clark, Institutional Compliance Coordinator, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa

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