What makes a course "required"?

Jun 08, 2011

We're having a discussion internally about what makes a course "required".  The context of the discussion is other parts of the company assigning our people training that they say is "required" but we don't agree.  Right now there is no process in place and any administrator can assign anything they want to the entire company. 

How do you (or would you) approach a situation like this? 

14 Replies
Zara Ogden

I think you need a master key holder or group (like L&D).

It is very unlikely from my point of view that all employees will have to take very many courses. But It is likely that many groups will have regulatory training they must complete. I don't think that all administrators of your LMS or learning system should be permitted to force the entire company to take a training.

Here we are taking the approach that only the training department will be permitted to upload approved and review material. The managers will have assignment rights. They will only be allowed to go into the LMS to select what their staff members will be permitted and required to take.

We are in the infancy stage of eLeaning so people don't understand what good quality learning is.

Kevin Thorn

Hey Mike,

Zara makes some good points. There needs to be (or should be) some matrix or process in place for identifying "required" or "assigned" training.

The most obvious would be compliance or regulatory type training - diversity, annual safety, sexual harassment, policy updates, etc.

One approach is to create your library of offerings that some may "want" to have as required, but shift the focus on the marketing and communications of the learning with a tone of WIIFM (What's In It For Me?). Learners who are forced to take eLearning already have a chip on their shoulder no matter how awesome the work you put into building it. The vibe I'm seeing is learners want to PULL rather than us PUSH content. Let them know why its important to PULL it on their own, the value they will get from it, and how it will impact or improve their knowledge and performance.

Think of an LMS like a Social Community. Regardless if your LMS has those capabilities or not. You want your learners to think of logging into the LMS on their own when they want to learn, research, or just browse. The community you build is through your companies communication channels and your LMS is the central learning hub.

For what it's worth, we branded our LMS called the "Learning Garage." We always refer to the LMS by that name when communicating new learning offerings. Then again, when I talk to IT I refer to is the LMS

Mike Taylor

I completely agree with you both.  Maybe my question is actually how can we "sell" the need for a matrix/process to be put in place? Our challenge here is that HR controls the LMS and all the associated access (we have over 100 LMS admins) but doesn't see any problem with some departments assigning all sorts of stuff to other parts of the company.  Which results in extra work for us, a bad reaction (rightfully so IMHO) from the people who get assigned the stuff, a bunch of calls to the help desk, etc etc.

We absolutely need some form of  'master key holder' and the trick is to get others to see this as necessary also. Ideally we'd present it in a way that let's them think it was their own idea, etc etc. 

Any suggestions?

Kevin Thorn

Wow! 100 people have admin rights to your LMS?! That is a problem.

There are two people here that have 'super' admin rights. My boss, another co-worker and me (for redundancy). We have total rights to the system. Others are what we call sub-admins. In total I think we may have about 30. And of those 30, each have different rights depending on their job function and role. Some may just manage classroom/resources/vendors, while others manage tests/surveys, and yet others are allowed to upload new content and set parameters, but not assignments/requirement/approvals notifications.

Early on in the development cycle, the elearning is determined its assignment/requirement. How we will measure/evaluate, and any reports that execs may need in connection with the training. IF it is required training, then I oversee the publishing and hit the final 'publish' button.

Before you can break the current process, you have to somehow show the break points and gaps. Can you get with the Help Desk and have them run a report based on the number of tickets submitted due to these issues. From there you can work with them on time/cost of agents, time/cost of you an your team to fix any issues. That's money. And execs don't like to see money not being spent wisely.

In the end, someone (department) needs to have the 'master key' or ownership of the LMS with a true role of LMS Administrator (super admin). I hate corporate processes just like the next fella, but some are necessary and are needed.

Mike Taylor

Great minds think alike Kevin!! 8-) I've already been to our help desk for the info you suggested and alas the Dilbertness extends even further.  They aren't able to give us that data....I know there are a LOT of tickets related to this but they have no way of reporting on them. (Really I couldn't even make this stuff up!)  I think I'm going to have to try to GUESSTIMATE some numbers and pray that logic enters into the equation at some point.  You mention executives and that is another challenge we face, as none of ours (that I'm aware of) are engaged. 8-(  I think as soon as any one of them would realize the time and $$$ being wasted they would quickly put a stop to it.....and maybe I've just changed my question yet again.  Maybe it is finding out how to bring this mess to their attention...especially from where I sit in relation to them in the org chart. 

It sounds like you also have some standards for developing courses? i.e Authoring software, etc?  Is that right? How many employees do you guys have? We have 20k+ in total and our part of the org has about 4500 of those. 

Kevin Thorn

Wow! A help desk that can't pull reports on the number/types of tickets being submitted?! That's a new on me. Actually, when we first implemented our LMS, we pulled the Help Desk team in and had a side project to develop new menus and filters specific to tracking LMS issues - content, login, network, etc. We don't pull those tickets very often but the extra effort on the front end paid off when we did. Nothing you can do about it for your current situation, but perhaps start the conversation about 'how to track training issues' when they come into the Help Desk.

Seems like you're going to have to come at this at several angles. Help Desk to get time/cost, a little SWAG guesstimations, working a process from the bottom up, and somehow find a champion at the exec level who you can feed this information and they lead the effort.

Yes, "loose" standards but it is a process. 1) Design thinking session (think brainstorming but more focused on learning design). 2) Storyboarding. 3) Choose authoring environment. 4) Prototype. Again, that's the "loose" design phase and there is a lot that goes on during that process with presentation, type (branching, scenario, etc.), theme, asset selection (photos, images, etc.), audio, video, etc. Once we get a prototype out and 'signed off' by the SME, we move into full development.

We have roughly 65k employees which encompasses five different business functions and audiences.

Bob S


Just to make you feel better, here is a level of Dilbertness we are dealing with currently...

  • Not only are there multiple admins, there are multiple LMSs!  Seven or so of them.... as far as we know (no joke).
  • Each LMS is controlled by a different arm of the company, but many of them push training out company-wide that all employees must take. So each employee must log on to different systems!
  • Much of the company-wide training is regulatory in nature and thus has strict reporting/compliance requirements.
  • Because of the strict requirement and fear of loss of control, some of the functions use homegrown reporting solutions that pull from their LMS. Each reporting system was built with it's own set of requirements for a narrow specific reporting role.
  • There is no centralized training group. In fact, there are dozens of small training groups attached to various functions within the company.
  • There are training requirements that come from the mother ship (another country), the country group (all companies in said country), the specific company, AND functions inside that one company.

So just in case you were feeling frustrated, remember it can always be worse.

Steve Flowers

For required (compliance) stuff we set up an outside exposure limit. This limits the number of hours for compliance training (mandated exposure) to a reasonable and finite number.

We set up multiple levels and each level includes a set of qualification criteria (yes, the courses themselves need to qualify). The levels work out to something like this:

  • Mandated Training (A) - Applies to everyone.
  • Mandated Training (B) - Applies to subsets of employees (i.e., managers)
  • Workforce Learning - Applies to specific vocations and contributes to intentional readiness or qualification

Mandated Training (A) has a limit of around 6 hours or so if I remember correctly. And this is a HARD SET limit supported at the highest levels of leadership. In order to get your course on the docket you REALLY need to have a strong case for adding it to the load. 

It sounds like a small part of your problem is process (100 LMS admins is nutty) but the rest is likely fixable with incentives and limits. Setting up categories / tiers with firm "qualification" criteria could be just the trick.

Sam Lincoln

You ask "what makes a course 'required'" - a simple answer is "when demonstrating or measuring skills or competence is a legal requirement or critical to business success". It seems that it shouldn't take too many people to decide this.

The discussion quickly turned to who makes this decision and how can they be influenced. It strikes me that legal and critical business issues should be made at the highest level. My experience is that the only way to persuade them of a need for change is to provide measurement of a problem or evidence of negative/positive impact. In military terms this would be called the 'indirect approach'. In this case, the problem is too many lower level managers deciding that their requirement is important enough to interrupt everyone else. If you can demonstrate the following to senior management it might help:

* How many courses are currently considered to be 'required' (presumably that means that there will be some form of sanction for non completion)?

* What percentage of the workforce completes these courses and what happens to those that don't? If it's a small number of completions and/or nothing happens to those that don't take the course - there is a clear message.

* Is there any measureable impact on business deliverables if the courses are taken/not taken (e.g. if there is no impact if the courses are not taken or if there is positive impact when the courses are taken, then messages can be derived).

* Is it possible to estimate the cost of the current situation in terms of time, effort and money? If you can and you can compare it to a missed business opportunity.

If all else fails, conduct a staff survey to find these and other relevant answers - but be mindful to couch it in positive terms and not as an obvious attempt to criticise other departments. It's best to start small - don't try to tackle everyone at once.

Hope that helps and good luck! I tried this approach in my large Government department and managed to focus the attention of senior figures (for a short while at least).

Mike Taylor

Thanks guys...just being able to have this conversation with people who "get it" has helped preserve what little bit of sanity I have left! 8-)  

I just checked and it's actually worse than I thought we have over 1000 admins and even when you eliminate ones who only have the ability to enter training rosters and view reports it's still over 400. That's gotta be some sort of record but not one I want my name next too. 

At least there is some comfort knowing that I'm not in Bob's shoes...7 different systems?? Holy cow!!!

I really like Steve's concept of a limit on the number of hours that can be required. I'll definitely keep that in mind and see what kind of luck we have with that. 

It looks like my path is going to include: 

  • extracting relevant data from the help desk system (probably manually - ouch!) 
  • guesstimating some numbers around the costs/negative impacts of all our "required" training
  • using all this data to get the attention of someone high enough in the food chain who is able to address the problem. 

Again, thanks so much for the suggestions and conversation!!!


Bruce Graham

I know it is absolutely no help at all , but I would start by asking the question "Who owns learning?".

"Required" training is all about compliance and legality, yes, but it is ALSO required for certain roles.

If your company has a competency matrix in place for roles it might assist in matching courses to roles, however, I'm guessing that the curse of Dilbert may rear its ugly head again....


Tracy Parish

We're on this track/issue right now too.  We have mandatory/required training that we must do for Accreditation purposes.  Then there are additional course that come out of accrediting for specific departments (ie: our lab).  Every so often the Ministry throws in an additional...this year this is mandatory.

Then there are the components that must be learned in order to function within a given department.

And then there is the everything else that people want them (the staff) to know.

We're currently working with a large group of nurse educators trying to get them to fill in a sheet to let us know what they have, what they think is required and why they say it is a requirement.  Trying to see where all the overlap is occuring area to area.

This group also wants LMS admin rights.  Currently there is just me and 4 other people  that have access to all, but have been told they have access to just certain components.  If I could limit, truly, to just certain components I would do that.  It would save me some of the "maintenance" work throughout the system.  Such as, the registering and marking of people into classroom in-services.  However, because I can only give them all or nothing I've chosen nothing.  I don't need them playing in the LMS and accidently doing this or that.  We don't have the greatest system and I've needed to create work arounds in order to have it function in the manner that it currently is functioning.

We're also desperately working on...so it's required and they don't do it....NOW WHAT?  What is the true accountablity for required training and who follows up when it's not completed?  Another thing to think about.

Bob S


I've come to believe that finding a company with true competency mapping is akin to spotting Bigfoot (or in your case, Nessie).

We all know competency mapping it's the right way to go, but too often the reality is that many companies today don't have the stomach for it. So we are left looking for other methods to help base a learning culture off of. And if you all will permit me the rant, I believe that idea is core to this particular discussion.... is there a culture of learning in place or is training just a "must do" to check a box off?

Establishing a culture of learning can be like tilting at windmills. But it IS worth it. It takes time, perserverance, and securing buy-in from stakeholders with the juice to make things stick. When done correctly it makes accountability for training a personal responsibility of each employee and manager just like any other core part of their job. And that means training is a positive thing.

On the other hand, if there is no culture of learning in place then training becomes just another "must do". No one wants to be responsible for it and accountability becomes a stick instead of a carrot. It's viewed as a burden, or neccessary evil at best. And that means training is a negative thing.

So I might suggest that core to solving many of the questions posed in this thread is to look at the learning culture in place. First decide if there is a culture of learning or if you are willing/able to create one. If not, then you must go down the negative path and show the consequences of not doing a certain training, or certain initiave, etc and get the stakeholders to wield the stick.

I know which path I prefer. But each situation is different and requires us to be flexible in our approach.

Bruce Graham


You are my long lost brother

We are in "lockstep", (as the only CEO that I ever met that uunderstood this used to say).

I think developing Competency Maps is a great skill for IDs to develop, because it is an "upsell" that can be offered to HR departments if they are paying the online learning bill

At Oracle it took us nearly 4-years to develop a "learning culture", we almost got there before I left.....


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