Create an Effective Compliance Training Course in 3 Easy Steps


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Last weekend, my husband and I put together a sofa table that we recently purchased. When given the option to pay extra to have a professional assemble it for us, we scoffed, "Absolutely not! How hard can it be to put a sofa table together?"

The answer—as we discovered over the course of the next few hours—is pretty difficult, actually.

There were no words, just pictures. And the pictures in the instruction manual looked nothing like the various parts and hardware in front of us.

Frustrating was an understatement.

The moral of this story is that clarity is important—whether you're creating an instruction manual for assembling furniture or developing online compliance training.

I can't speak for writing instruction manuals, but here are three things I like to keep in mind when it comes to creating compliance courses:


Many compliance courses cover very complex, legal topics. But this doesn't mean the course content needs to be written in an overly complex or legal type of way. When developing or reviewing compliance training, I regularly ask myself:

Can I phrase this more plainly?

Will someone who doesn't have a law degree be able to understand this?

I've spent my entire career teaching technical or complicated topics to non-experts. My philosophy has always been that the best teachers can make the most complex topics simple, understandable, and relatable.

2) think about your audience

When crafting and reviewing course content, I spend a lot of time thinking about the end users: the people who will eventually be taking the training.

When I used to teach, my students' facial cues and body language helped me gauge their understanding and level of interest. Furrowed brows? I needed to find a better way to explain things. Glazed over eyes? I needed to better engage them—e.g., asking a question and giving them a chance to participate.

With e-Learning training, we don't have this face-to-face luxury. If we're not clear, we don't get a do-over; and more importantly, the learner isn't able to understand what we're trying to teach them. This increases our responsibility to make sure our courses are engaging and easy to follow.

This can take many forms, such as:

  • Using bulleted lists in favor of large blocks of text
  • Teaching primarily through immersive scenarios
  • Using relatable, practical examples to demonstrate learning objectives (or as we say, "show, don't tell")

3) focus on action

Both instruction manuals and compliance trainings are teaching someone to do something—whether it's assembling a piece of furniture of reporting improper workplace conduct. From a content-writing perspective, this means evaluating your content to prioritize the things employees need to act on.

For example, could you imagine if my sofa table instruction manual delved into the history of the screw? This information would not help me assemble my sofa table; in fact, it would probably actively make it harder by distracting me from the information I need to know and act on.

The same is true for compliance training.

One of the things the DOJ looks for when evaluating the effectiveness of corporate compliance programs is whether the program is " being disseminated to, and understood by, employees in practice."

This emphasis on "in practice" highlights that it's not enough for your training to just recite the names and text of various laws and regulations. Knowing the name of a legal standard or what year a law was passed isn't going to teach employees to do the right thing in the workplace when that law comes into play.

It's the actions that employees take (or don't take) in the workplace that matter—and trainings should reflect this.

If You Build It…

Clarity can be the difference between impactful compliance training and compliance training that misses the mark. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

In the meantime, you can find me in my living room, admiring my sofa table that took entirely too long to assemble.



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