Adaptive Role-based Learning for Compliance

adaptive-role-based-learning-complianceThe word “engagement” is a buzzword often used in the compliance training industry, but what does this really mean? Is it about making “gamified” courses that are fun to use? Having slick, sophisticated graphics and animations to impress your audience? Or maybe it’s simply about developing courses that are as short as possible – so that your learners aren’t bored to tears!

Certainly, these are important considerations for compliance learning design, and learners may indeed find some of these factors engaging. But what these features all have in common is that they are extrinsic sources of engagement – especially if you haven’t taken your particular learner into consideration. True engagement, however, is intrinsic, and it happens when the learning has been designed to be adaptive.

Again, it’s important to clarify the meaning of “adaptive.” This is sometimes used to refer to something that is “responsive,” i.e., a course that can be completed on a smartphone, tablet, or desktop. But that’s not what we mean here. In this case, “adaptive learning” means learning that it adapts to who you are, not the device you’re using.

Furthermore, to be truly effective, training should also draw upon relatable role-based scenarios; creating scenarios based on familiar situations not only helps to make the course more engaging, but also makes it easier to remember in the long term.

So, how exactly can you design a compliance course or training program that is adaptive and role based, understands who your learners are, and can meet their needs? One way is by following the three R’s of adaptive learning – Relevance, Realism, and Respect.

The Three R’s of Adaptive Learning

Adaptive learning is all about taking your learners into account – for example, what are their existing skills, knowledge, roles, and industry? By using the three R’s to get a fuller picture of your audience, you can go a long way towards lowering the hostility that is, unfortunately, often engendered by repetitive and poorly adapted compliance training.

Relevance: A relevant compliance course is one that is tailored to an employee’s position within a company. For instance, an off-the-shelf course aimed at line managers is unlikely to appeal to C-level executives. Likewise, a data privacy course that discusses US federal legislation without exploring state laws specific to a user is not going to be entirely useful.

Realism: As discussed in a previous post about sexual harassment in the workplace, to be engaging, compliance course content needs to take place in an environment that the learners recognize, with situations that resonate for them. What’s more, not only does creating real-life scenarios support your learning objectives, but it also shows that you are being honest about the particular risks involved in your industry.

Respect: The final key factor in adaptive learning is to acknowledge learners’ prior knowledge and experience. Making your audience carry out training on something that they already know inside-out can be a pain, so, if possible, allow them to skip the parts they can show mastery of.

Applying the Three R’s

So, what do these three R’s of adaptive compliance learning look like when put into practice? Here are some typical examples.

Profilers: A profiler is essentially a set of drop-down boxes at the start of an e-learning course that allows the learner to select their own characteristics. These can include location, level of seniority, or business unit. Using these details, a course can then only show the topics and scenarios that are relevant to that user. Not only does this create a highly personalized learning solution that will keep learners engaged, but it also cuts out unnecessary content, greatly reducing seat time.

Test down/test out: Two options that are increasing in popularity, test-down and test-out facilities, recognize a user’s prior learning and adapt course content accordingly. Test down works by having learners first complete a pre-assessment related to their compliance subject area. They then only complete training on the components they haven’t demonstrated proficiency on. One advantage of this is that it is easier and quicker to drive learners to 100% competence. In test out, users must achieve a specific percentage in order to pass the pre-assessment. If they pass, they don’t have to complete the training, but if they fail, they have to complete the entire course. With this method, however, it’s important to remember that although learners may achieve the pass mark, they may have answered some critical questions incorrectly.

Text editors: Companies sometimes need to customize their compliance training to very specific environments and issues, an aim which is usually beyond the scope of most off-the-shelf courses. For example, an employee working in a warehouse for a manufacturing company may not fully relate to the same scenarios as an office worker at a tech company. In these cases, a text editor can be used to inform e-learning developers what changes need to be implemented so they can tailor the scenarios and make them more realistic for the user.

Smart menus: These allow users to take topics in a variety of sequences and to choose their own journey through a compliance course. They remember where the learner has been and unlock new areas as the user completes the topics. In this way, rather than being forced to pursue a certain path, users are afforded the respect to follow their own preferences.


Making adaptive learning an integral part of your compliance training is a sure-fire way of increasing an audience’s receptivity to and engagement in a course. But there is another vital benefit associated with this – return on investment. Adaptive learning results in employees only taking training in areas they lack competency in. So, by reducing the overall amount of time users spend in training, organizations can also save a significant amount of money – a win-win situation for all concerned.


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