How do you determine if a course is mandatory?

Good afternoon heroes,

I've got a good problem I guess. As our e-Learning program has evolved we're creating more and more content both internally and externally. Internally, I'm finding that quite a few of my business partners want their course to be a mandatory course for all 1,000 of our employees. I cringe at the term "mandatory", but I realize some courses it's necessary. Some, however, not so much.

So here's my question, does anybody have a good "system" or "rule" that you use when determining if a course will be mandatory for the employees within your company?

4 Replies
Christy Tucker

Questions I might ask in your situation:

  • Why does it need to be mandatory?
  • What would happen if people didn't take this course? What would the consequence be?
  • Is this more important for some groups or roles than others? (then make it mandatory for some but not everyone)
  • Who would benefit most from this course?
  • Could we internally market the benefits of the course instead of making it mandatory?
  • Could a small part of this be mandatory, while the rest of it is optional for the people who most need it?

I don't have a firm "rule," but those questions would help weigh the pros and cons. Usually I see mandatory training as being needed for legal or ethical compliance training or big policy or product changes. Even with major product upgrades, you usually have several versions of training: one for sales, one for engineers, and one brief overview for everyone else, for example.

If you can get them talking about the consequence for not taking the course, then you can weigh that against the cost of 1000 people spending 30 minutes (or whatever) taking the course.

There's also a question of culture. If the organizational culture dictates that managers never allow their people time to do training unless it's mandatory, then I can see why people want to make everything required. You might need to go with that in the short run while you work on changing the culture.

Bob S

Hi Adam,

Some additional thoughts for you on the topic....

1) What are the real risks here? And what is actually required to mitigate them?
Beyond business/cultural imperatives, regulatory concerns often drive mandatory training. Interestingly enough, in many cases you can satisfy the requirements in a far less onerous way than you might think  For example, test-out options, longer cycles between re-deployment of materials, targeted audiences, et al are often valid options if you dig into them.

2) If it really needs to be mandatory, can we report on it and what happens if they don't take it?
Like parents that say "I really mean it this time", it is highly corrosive to make something mandatory and not have an escalation/consequence in place. You will need senior leadership commitment and be prepared to follow through - another reasons to consider if it truly needs to be mandatory or not.

3) Remember that making some courses mandatory can have an unintended consequence of reducing utilization of optional courses.
Today more than ever, people are busy and only have so much time they are willing to dedicate towards development/learning. Making content mandatory does not increase that pool of available time... so be aware of this paradox and remind your stakeholders of it.

4) Finally, if there are courses that simply must be mandatory, consider a schedule/calendar approach. 
For example taking a quarterly view of things you might serve up the couple of required courses for that quarter as well as marketing a couple of optional ones. This helps build the training culture/expectation and people become accustomed to always learning as part of the company ethos. NOTE: Establishing this approach has the added benefit of letting you manage the floodgate of mandatory training requests. If you only have 2  "required training slots" per quarter, then a stakeholder may have to wait if they want their course mandatory, or go with a marketed optional rollout.

Hope these thoughts help and good luck!