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Key Differences Between Compliance & Learning: What Does Your Company Promote?

  • August 20, 2018
  • VAIRKKO

Oftentimes it is standard practice to measure learning and development across an organization by levels of compliance. Compliance standards are typically set outside the company and audited, however, they can also expand to practices such as onboarding a new employee. In the latter case, employees go through onboarding to achieve a certain level of compliance that will deem them capable of working on their own, or show managers that they have at least marked a checkbox.

Compliance was initially started to bring about a standard across industries and suggest at least a minimum viable product/solution/etc. While compliance is advantageous in setting a standard, sometimes this can stifle development, creativity and growth in an organization that is set on meeting the status quo. Similarly, in situations with learning and development, creating a compliance measurement can backfire where students/employees do not learn the material to apply their newfound knowledge and instead to show completion and therefore compliance.

Within an organization there are ways to promote both compliance and learning across the board and it is important to continually revise and edit your training or learning and development material to promote the best outcome: learning. While learning can be measured against compliance regulations, the actual point of the learning is to teach employees something new or bolster their strengths in a way to foster an environment of continual growth and application of the new teachings.

So, in your organization, what do you promote? Compliance or Learning? A few quick ways to spot the differences:


Compliance: Tests at measured intervals

Learning: Show mastery in varied ways at different times


Compliance typically follows a rigid cadence and does not expand beyond one format of testing or measuring an outcome. As an example, this can look like having a student complete a test every Friday. Not only does this not necessarily measure learning, but it doesn’t touch on different learning styles that may reveal an employee is not able to apply the learning and instead is good at memorization. Learning can be shown through various different markers of completion and not just a test that is handed out once a week. To combine both of these methods, while for compliance it is necessary to have a test every Friday - at other times throughout the teaching to offer hands-on and real-life problem solving activities alongside ensuring compliance to reap the greatest reward. Ultimately, companies spend lots of money on training and development and it is a missed opportunity to work for compliance without also taking into consideration what learning and mastery look like.


Compliance: Behavior is tracked & publicly displayed

Learning: Self-report progress on established behavior expectations


Sometimes objectives can’t be measured with a test and instead need to be discussed and implemented. In managerial roles, or example, it is common to discuss direct reports and how situations are being handled - no test can measure this, and instead it is an internal indicator on how progress is being made and how a manager feels he or she is handling a situation. Oftentimes, this can indicate growth far better than a test  with scores that are displayed. Compliance can bring about competition which in some cases does not always promote the best learning environment. When there are winners and losers, especially within a team or role, teamwork, trust, and other intangibles can be undermined. Look for opportunities to trust students and employees with self-reported goals and achievements that suggest growth as opposed to holding them to a uniform standard that in some cases in underperforming for some, while a struggle for others to meet.

Company teaching employees about compliance and learning.


Compliance: Fixed templates

Learning: Flexibility & Creativity


Allowing students to drive the vehicle to success and mastery of objectives is a smart way to open the floor to creativity, ingenuity, and further growth. Boxing in learners with fixed templates and rigid guidelines can stifle learning and development in a way that can hurt the organization in the long run. Instead of developing out-of-box thinkers, thought leaders, and problem solvers, an organization is instead developing a group of employees that only know how to work with increased oversight and without freedom - a dangerous place to be for companies that want to grow, create efficiencies, and continue in an upward and to the right trajectory.


Compliance: Hand Raising

Learning: Group Dynamics & Conversation


A classroom with energy is one that is dynamic and involves each learner, whereas an organization looking for compliance looks more like hand-raising. While this is more of a metaphor than anything else, it is important to take a long hard look at training and development programs to see if there is an environment that is fostered for everyone to contribute to the learning and growth of all others on the team and if this is rewarded, as opposed to an environment where there is hand-raising that is not creating equal opportunities for everyone involved to demonstrate mastery and take part in the conversation.

While these are just a few examples of the differences between compliance and learning across an organization, it is wise to take a good look at the training and development program now and what it is actually measuring. Is your team looking to put a few checks in the boxes in order to pass regulations, or are they genuinely interested in the greatest result which is learning? A great way to measure this is whether what you are teaching actually makes sense - was it created for compliance? Or was it created to make great employees that are energized by their work and engaged in promoting a positive environment? If you do not know the answers to these questions - it’s probably time to take a good long look at the program. Oftentimes, if an educator or trainer is focused on the learning, compliance follows, where the opposite is not always true - if you are focused on compliance, that does not necessarily mean that learning follows. Spend some time working through what compliance looks like in your organization and expand the learning opportunities for your employees - there are many benefits to reap along the way.

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