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I know you’ve seen it several times before. Your ethics and compliance training feedback reads like a bad first-date review: tedious, uninteresting, lives in his mom’s basement. But you can’t seem to make it better.

As training day approaches you find an increasing number of your employees are coming down with rare tropical diseases. Others have converted to little-known, cloistered religions with holy days that coincidentally coincide with training day.

Today you’re going to learn how to reverse those trends. We’ll consider 14 reasons that most compliance training fails. You’ll also learn 14 actionable tips to avoid failure in your organization.

Remember: compliance and ethics training can and should be effective, engaging, and entertaining.

“Impossible!” you say.

Let’s find out.

I know what you’re thinking: “14?! I don’t have time to read all that.”

But before you quit on this article here is a table of contents to help you jump to the parts of the article that are relevant to your needs:

1. Lack of Learner Focused Goals

Failure: Learners disengage from training because they don’t connect with the reasons for the training.

Solution: Seek to find and provide legitimate, compelling reasons  and goals for employees participating in the training.

“Because we told you so” and “because it’s the law” are not legitimate, compelling reasons. Those are threats. Threats inspire fear whereas positive emotions yield positive results.

So your responsibility in designing the training is to help learners to see how they benefit personally. Doing so empowers and motivates employees.

This is why establishing learner goals is so important.

Learner-focused objectives lead to content that regularly references these goals throughout the course. As a result, your employees see the practical and personal value of the training. When people see personal benefits, it is easier to keep them engaged and motivated.

2. Training Session Timing

Failure: Compliance and Ethics training is too long.

Fact of life: Everyone dreads long.

The longer the training program the more challenging it is to maintain learner attention. 

Solution: micro-learning modules

Organize your learning experiences into bite sized nuggets of content that are simple, engaging, and easy to remember.

At the end of the day, your focus is to ensure that ethics and compliance issues are at the forefront of employee’s minds. Sadly, the extreme length of most training sessions is often what is remembered most.

So create short modules that develop and emphasize a few key points. Utilizing microlearning allows you to train your employees quickly and effectively.

3. Poor Delivery

Failure: The presentation is boring

Let’s face it, listening to most people talk is just plain boring. And we know we probably shouldn’t, but we, just like others, still judge ‘books’ by their ‘covers’.

No matter how well developed or learner-focused our content is, nobody will care if the presentation is boring.

Solution: Present the material with genuine enthusiasm and in an entertaining way.

How can we do that?

First, we have to generate real enthusiasm about the topics in the presenter. If we don’t care, nobody else will either.

Knowledge might be power, but enthusiasm flips the switch.

Second, we need to make the material entertaining. Look at the material objectively, acknowledge the uninteresting parts, ask for honest feedback, and make a concerted effort to improve.


This is not to say that you want your compliance training audience brimming with the exuberance of a throng of teenage girls at a K-Pop concert. But it doesn’t mean that you just give up all hope of generating some excitement and entertainment value in the training.

But, how do you do it?

2 ways: Empathize with the learner, and write with simplicity.

Let’s look at those.

4. Written for Experts by Experts 

Failure: Training is often written by experts based on what experts think learners will like.

We hate to say it but it’s true: most employees don’t want to participate in compliance and ethics training. Why? Because it is known to be boring.

Thus from the moment they hear of the training they equate it with what they expect it to be like. We do the same thing when we go to the dentist. Is it necessary? Yes. Desirable? Not a chance.

Solution: Acknowledge their feelings and address their concerns.

As we’re designing the course, we have to try to realistically imagine how our learners might feel. Key word: realistically. This requires humility. 

Because our learners likely feel differently about the material than we do. We must acknowledge those feelings. The way that you write and present the material shows that we respect the feelings of your learners. 

When they feel that we’ve taken their feelings into account we build trust and improve engagement.

How does empathy affect the material?

5. Written with Complexity

Failure: ethics and compliance training is complex and is written in a stiff educational tone.

This is not to say that ethics and compliance training is not a serious matter. It is. Failure to comply can have costly legal implications and massive long-lasting consequences.

Despite this, the material should not be overly complex or presented in a rigid, educational tone.

Solution: Write in simple, human language and try to inject humor and storytelling.

Despite its ubiquitousness, the educational tone and the use of sesquipedalian language is dull, confusing, and downright ineffective. (Just like that last sentence. Bethca didn’t know what sesquipedalian meant).

When you use common language, humor, and stories you connect naturally with your learners. You speak with them not at them.

The power of humor and storytelling are the best ways to get learners to engage mentally and retain the material being presented.

Fun training that is built around stories is not just memorable, it is enjoyable. When people are laughing, they are learning.

So how do we do that?

First and foremost: Steal like an artist. Do not hesitate to borrow from the multitude of effective methods that are currently being used in the gazillion dollar entertainment industry. Why? Because they work.

Let’s look at a few methods.

6. Paucity of Variety

(Ok, I promise that is the last big word I’ll use)

Failure: Saying the same thing repeatedly using the same method of presentation.

You already know that variety is the spice of life. So why wouldn’t we use it as well in training?

Solution: Inject the material with variety and the occasional surprise.


The group of learners you are training is diverse. They come from different areas, have different backgrounds and may speak different languages. So acknowledge that.

Recognize that different people learn in different ways. Do research to identify the needs of your learners and their different learning styles.

Then keep those different needs, goals and learning styles as you build the training

Once built, let employees choose the training modules that interest them. Design each module in a ‘choose your own adventure’ style. Learner engagement increases as training progresses because they get to pick topics they’re interested in.

Use various methods within each module to convey information.

What are some methods can you choose from?

7. Tell Stories that Matter

Failure: information is merely presented and stated as fact or long, irrelevant stories distract from main points. 

Solution: create real characters to which learners can relate and use short, memorable stories to put information into context.

An effective story combines emotion with content. When you hear a story you make a connection, form ideas and retain information.

That’s why you can normally repeat a well-told story after hearing it just one time.

Incorporating real-world, memorable stories augments the engagement and effectiveness of training. 

How do we craft such a story?

Here are 5 tips:

  1. Begin with a realistic challenge or problem.
  2. Create authentic, relatable characters.
  3. Set the story in a realistic environment.
  4. Explore the various realistics options, aspects and challenges of the situation.
  5. Teach, don’t preach.

Did you notice a recurring theme: realism. When a story is realistic and relatable, people latch on to it.

Consider continuing a story over the course of the training. Create different episodes of the story and allow characters to develop, grow, and experience the consequences of learner decisions. 

Most importantly, don’t forget to inject humor. The absurdity of real life makes stories more authentic and realistic. It is precisely that absurdity that increases learner engagement and retention.

Let’s look at another method.

8. Suffering Through Silly Scenarios

Failure: Training simulations are often unrealistic or insultingly obvious.

Solution: Build realistic scenarios based on the stories that you crafted for the training.

Scenarios and simulations give the learners a chance to practice and ingrain the skills they need to learn. Yet scenarios must be balanced. Realism and practicality need to harmonize with difficulty.

If what to do is glaringly obvious, we insult the intelligence of the learner and devalue the training.

But if the scenario is overly complex the learner feels overwhelmed and inclined to quit nothing is learned.

How can we strike the proper balance?


Keep in mind what the audience already knows, the challenges they face, and the goals they need to accomplish.

But, how do we get that information?

It’s simple. Ask them!

As we design the training, we get learner input. Then we know how to design scenarios that raise the stakes.

Challenging, believable scenarios add authenticity and make training engaging and effective. When learners see real-world consequences and personal impact their decisions have, they are more likely to recall and put into practice what they have learned. 

“But don’t we have to test them?”

9. Test Not, Want Not

Failure: using traditional quizzes, tests, and assessments

Nobody likes to be tested or take tests.

Just hearing the word test makes people’s skin crawl and their bowels loosen. When learners feel like that it is difficult to get a true sense of what they really know or how well they know it.

This is not to say that assessment is unnecessary or ineffective. We have to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the learner to find areas for improvement.

Additionally, testing does have great value in retention.

But remember, your audience is intelligent. You hired them. Everyone went to school. And everyone can smell a test coming a mile away.

Solution: Use exciting games and realistic scenarios to assess employees and determine appropriate feedback.

Games help us assess the learner while they are having fun.

So while they retain the information you gain insights into how well they know the subject.

The best part: learners are having fun taking a ‘test’ that they don’t even realize is a test!

“Are games really necessary?”

Good question.

10. Are Your Games Lame?

Failure: “The concepts of games and ethics and compliance training don’t mix.”

Said no one, ever…hopefully

Just because we are talking about ethics and compliance training, it doesn’t mean that games are totally off the table.

Engaging employees requires that we transform them from passive listeners to active participants. To do that we have to ask for action on their part. The most effective way to do that: a game.

Solution: Design and implement interactive games into the learning modules.

Games give learners a mission and tasks to perform within the context of a story. As they meet challenges or accomplish missions they gain rewards and advance levels.

When learners interact with the training program through games, we enhance their level of engagement and make the training memorable.

This is not saying you should subcontract Nintendo or Electronic Arts to create effective training. (Shameless plug: Brilliant Educational Services can definitely help and save you money over Nintendo). But employees do need to see how compliance and ethics policies apply to them personally and what their responsibilities are in applying those policies.

When presented in the form of a game compliance and ethics training accomplishes those goals and gives learners something to look forward to rather than dread. At the same time, you can inspire a little healthy competition and keep learners talking even after the training has concluded.

The result: gamified training creates an environment that is conducive to raising awareness and changing behavior.

“But what about the videos and graphics I’ve been using for decades?”

I’m glad you asked.

11. Your Multimedia is Stuck on Malaise

Failure: old videos, poor quality narration, dated graphics, multitudes of fonts, boatloads of colors.

Our goal is to create training that is meaningful, motivational, and memorable. But poor quality visuals or videos and graphics from the 1980s will derail even the best efforts.

Solution: Consult professionals to create multimedia that supplement course goals and enhance the quality of the material.

We don’t need our multimedia to win Oscars or cause learners to swoon and weep to measure their effectiveness. But the visuals should work along with purposefully designed and well written content to enhance learner engagement.

Multimedia that is professionally produced with learner-focused goals in mind will engage the learner instead of distract them.

If all the learners remember is 80s big hair, dated 90s styles, or graphics that were sourced from the original Soul Train, you have wasted the opportunity to effect real change.

“Any word about social media?”

In a word, yes.

12. Your Social is Set to Shortfall

Failure: pushing information down students throats

Most training is based on a manual or similar legal document. But duping employees into reading the manual by printing it on slides only makes things worse.

Solution: Use scenarios that allow the learner to learn socially (from their peers or others) and to pull needed information to accomplish a goal.

In your decision-making scenarios give employees links to the manual, HR, company blogs, or a compliance officer as a ‘life-line.’ 

These ‘life-lines’ then become relevant parts of the learner’s decision-making process. So when they need to make a decision they’ll be trained to consult the relevant parts of the manual first. They’ll know where to find information and when to consult HR or a compliance officer.

This is because the training has helped them develop social learning by practice.

This frames the manual or the laws in a real context.

When the learner needs them to make a successful decision or accomplish a goal, we train them to pull the information they need at the appropriate time.

The training is more effective because the learners are not bored by the resources. Placing these in a realistic context that benefits learners reinforces when and how to use them.

13. Conclude Like You Care

Failure: The training merely ends with a review of laws and congratulates the employee for completing it.

The end should never be the goal in any training.

If the learner is solely focused on getting to the conclusion, the value of the journey is lost.

Solution: Ensure that the conclusion of the course reinforces course goals and provides learners with the compelling motivation to act.

By the end of the training it should be clear to the learner what they need to do, when they need to do it, how to do it, and what resources are at their disposal. But why they should do it should standout foremost in their mind.

Learners need compelling reasons to act upon and apply what they have learned. So at the conclusion circle back to the goals outlined at the beginning. Help the learners to see how the different aspects of the course provided them with the tools necessary to accomplish goals that benefit them personally. Motivate them to incorporate what they have learned into their pattern of thought and action.

“This sounds like the perfect training program.”

It’s still missing one thing.

14. Weakness in the Workplace

Failure: Believing that training alone will effectuate change.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could just provide training and then changes in the thoughts and behaviors of our learners would just occur automatically?

It would also be fantastic to have a money printer in your house or an on-and-off switch for your children.

Not gonna happen any time soon.

Knowledge and understanding are major factors in the actions employees take. But culture and environment also wield significant influence.

Solution: Design training to complement and augment a well established workplace culture of ethics and compliance.

Ethics and compliance training is truly effective when it reinforces an already thriving culture of company values.

Remember, we want the training to empower the learner. But we don’t want our newly empowered learner to feel powerless to act because they feel intimidated by the environment.

The feeling of trust that exists between employees, managers, and trainers is a major indicator of how effective any training will really be. When the workplace environment reinforces training, employees more easily remember the information and are motivated to put it into practice. 

Empowering employees contributes to a better organizational culture and ultimately empowers and improves the organization.

Is Your Training Engaging, Entertaining, Effective?


So what do you think?

Has your ethics and compliance training fallen into any of those 14 traps?

I hope the simple, actionable solutions provided are helpful to you in creating more effective, engaging, and entertaining training.

I know it sounds like a lot, but all of these tips center around 3 fundamental concepts, workplace culture, training content, and training delivery.

Consistently improving these will enhance the quality of your training and improve the effect it has on learners.

Which of these solutions do you want to implement in your training? Did we leave anything out? Do you need specific help designing a training course that accomplishes the 3 E’s of Ethics and Compliance Training: Effectiveness, Engagement, Entertainment?

Leave us a comment below and tell us how you are putting these solutions into practice or click on the contact us link below to consult with Brilliant Educational Services about your current or upcoming training project.

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Brian Harris

Brian Harris is the Chief of Design and Development with Brilliant Educational Services. He specializes in producing learning experiences and educational materials that are engaging, entertaining, and effective.