Sometimes, it’s easy to get teams fired up to take on the next L&D challenge. When you’re teaching engaging, relevant subjects, your learners hardly need any encouragement to master their modules and complete their training in no time at all.
But what about when you’re dealing with subjects that aren’t quite so engaging? How can you make sure even the more dry and technical subjects jump off the page for your learners?
I caught up with Jennifer Weldy, Director of Learning & Development at medical billing solutions firm Zotec Partners, to chat about the 3-step process she uses to bring compliance training to life for her learners.
We started off by discussing the highly regulated world of medical billing - and the need to keep up with ever-changing compliance requirements.
“Zotec Partners works in medical billing, which is a highly regulated area of business,” says Jennifer. “This means we have annual compliance requirements for privacy and security, general everyday compliance, and compliance for certifications. It’s all there to give our customers peace of mind, and to document our processes.”
As Jennifer explains, this highly technical subject matter didn’t always lend itself to the most exciting or engaging learning experiences.
“When I joined Zotec, our compliance training was kind of flat,” she says. “It was a page-turning exercise, a check-the-box approach, which is the same across a lot of companies, to be honest. We did it every year, but we weren’t getting the results we wanted.”
“Instead,” says Jennifer, “we wanted to engage our learners, and to get them to make compliance a key part of their daily lives. That was the catalyst to make some changes to our compliance training, and to try some new things.”
"Before, we used to ask what had changed with compliance from year to year. Now, we start with a key question: What is really important for the learner to understand?”
For Jennifer, the challenge was to turn Zotec’s compliance training into something fun and engaging for each learner.
“Originally, we had a standard start-to-finish training session with some questions at the end that learners had to pass,” she says. “It was quite vanilla, with little room for creativity. Instead, we decided to refocus our normal learning design process. Before, we used to ask what had changed with compliance from year to year. Now, we start with a key question: What is really important for the learner to understand?”
Once they had that foundation in place, says Jennifer, the rest of the learning design process came together intuitively.
“By starting with that foundation, we were able to quickly move to prototyping. We decided that we were going to gamify the process somewhat, so that our users wouldn’t just have the typical ‘a to z’ experience, but would engage in the learning in a way that looked and felt different.”
But just how different was this compliance training, exactly?
“The first course we designed on privacy and security was an escape room prototype,” says Jennifer. “We know escape rooms are a lot of fun, and a lot of people already have experiences with them out in the real world. So we decided to bring that concept into our learning.”
According to Jennifer, this allowed them to refocus the entire training to fit the learning needs of each individual, and to turn old-fashioned training material into something more relevant.
“We wanted our learners to be able to interact and engage with the content on their own terms, rather than on the terms of the instructional designer,” she says. “Now, everyone gets to the end goal of testing their knowledge, but the questions are baked in along the way.”
For Jennifer, getting this right involved developing and testing a few different options. “When we started off with the escape room, we had the idea that anything in the room related to privacy or security compliance would glow, for example, the desk or the trash can. We also wanted to inject a little bit of humor, so we had a glowing dog and a glowing cat, too.”
As Jennifer explains, this novel approach needed a few tweaks to get right.
"We wanted our learners to be able to interact and engage with the content on their own terms, rather than on the terms of the instructional designer."
Trying something new in L&D is always a risk, and it can take some time to get things perfect. This was definitely the case for Jennifer’s compliance escape game.
To manage this process, Jennifer used a three-step process of agile content development: 1) prototype, 2) test, and 3) adjust.
To start off, Jennifer prototyped the new compliance escape game.
“Because it was very free-form, learners could go in any direction they wanted,” she says. “It was a kind of choose-your-own-adventure exercise. As a designer, that’s really exciting, because the learner can go at their own pace. We quickly prototyped it and showed people our ideas. We had traditional material before, and we wanted to make sure we weren’t going too far in the opposite direction.”
With a working prototype, the next step was to test the game out with stakeholders for their feedback and to make sure things were working well. As Jennifer explains, this process taught her some valuable things about what learners need in a compliance training product.
“What was interesting was, we had some feedback from people saying there wasn’t enough structure to it, and learners didn’t know when they’d actually completed the tasks,” says Jennifer. “Once we had that information, we could address the problem.”
Based on these testing results, Jennifer was then able to adjust the prototype to better fit the needs of learners.
“In response to the feedback, we included some instructions and made the game a lot clearer and easier to follow,” says Jennifer. “This made the learners feel more comfortable. Then, we rolled it out to 1,000 people.”
This three-step agile approach to developing content didn’t just lead to more engaging material - it also led to some great results for Zotec’s compliance training.
For Jennifer, the goal in designing the compliance escape room game was to be more creative with their learning and try new things. But on top of being more fun and engaging, this approach also led to some impressive positive impacts - especially with completion times.
“Our learners were completing the new training a lot faster than usual,” says Jennifer. “Most of the time, with our old compliance training, people would complete it within 60 days. This year, most of our completions have been within 30 days, because the training was so different. In 2019, we had 83% of our associates complete the training by the due date, but in 2020 we’ve lifted this to 92%. That’s a huge increase year-on-year.”
With compliance training, it can often be a hassle to have to chase people down and remind them to complete the modules. To have these response times improve so much was a big help.
“We also had great engagement with people evaluating the course, and our learners rated the course a 4.5 out of 5,” says Jennifer. “Typically, we score a 3, or maybe a 3.5, which tells you the course is performing fine. But in this case, people were telling us the course was great.”
“We had learners telling us it was the best compliance training they’d ever taken from any company,” says Jennifer. “I was stunned by the overwhelming positive feedback. It made us want to look at the next compliance course and think about how we could make it fun and interactive as well, but not repeating the same escape room format.”
“We had learners telling us it was the best compliance training they’d ever taken from any company. I was stunned by the overwhelming positive feedback."
“Now, we’re testing this agile prototyping approach with other training, too, and we’re getting feedback early on our modules. It’s a fail-fast approach - we want to know right away if something isn’t going to work. For our standard compliance training, we went with a Lego theme, and this was very well-received.”
A final lesson from the whole experience, according to Jennifer? “It turns out our learners like us to be creative and think outside the box.”
Thanks once again to Jennifer for taking the time to share this great story with us!
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