Archive for June, 2009


I’m currently writing a course for a retail client about climate change and this has really made me think about the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question. We always talk about engaging the learner and getting their buy-in, but what do we actually mean? For this course in particular I realised the importance of this because we’ve heard it all before about environmental issues. ‘Because of climate change the polar bears won’t have a home, so remember to turn off your computer every night.’ But do people really care about these things? Well, I’m sure there are some people who genuinely care about the plight of the polar bear but in reality most of us are more concerned with what we’re having for dinner.

It’s nothing new that teachers and instructors need to be salespeople in order to sell the benefits of the learning and engage their audience. This started me thinking that as well as writing learning outcomes at the start of designing a training course, maybe we should also write ‘audience drivers’. That is, answer the question that the learners will be asking themselves when their manager tells them to take the course: ‘OK, but what’s in it for me?’ We need to find out what really makes our audience tick, what is it that’s going to make them take 30 minutes out of their day to complete this course? But not just complete it, not just click Next and fluke the test at the end, actually, dare I say it, enjoy and appreciate it?

The course I’m currently designing is aimed at store managers within a retail company and so at the kick-off meeting for the project I asked:

  1. What motivates store managers in their everyday job?
  2. What don’t store managers like?
  3. What three things come into your head when describing store managers?

It didn’t take them long to come up with the answers below:

  1. Costs and making more profit, therefore bigger bonuses
  2. Wasting time, long sentences, vague opinions
  3. Task-oriented, matter-of-fact, competitive

Well, no surprises there then. So, how do we bring that into the course? We can’t just say ‘by taking this course you will be able to save money by reducing your energy usage’. Yes, this type of signposting can be useful but it’s not that engaging. If their number one priority is to make more profit, I decided to brainstorm a list of things that might help them do that:

  • Refurbishing their store to attract more customers and increase sales
  • Hiring more sales staff to increase sales
  • Increasing their marketing activities to increase sales
  • Being at the top of their monthly store managers’ sales league table (and getting a bigger bonus)

Now, instead of statements such as ‘turning off the lights saves you money’, we can tell them that ‘turning off the lights saves you money which you can use to hire more staff to increase sales and therefore profits.’ But, in order to really engage these people, it’s essential to consider the way we convey the message to them too and that last sentence was rather long-winded. Taking on board answers two and three from my original questions I began to focus more on using bullet points, short sentences and matter-of-fact statements about the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’.

And the result? A much punchier and more motivating e-learning module that speaks to the learners using language they connect to naturally, about a topic they are truly invested in.


We’ve decided it’s time Saffron started tweeting! We’ll be keeping up to date with what the rest of the L&D microblogosphere is thinking and talking about, as well as posting regular updates of what’s on our mind. Click here to follow us!


Saffron has been confirmed as one of the sponsors of the Institute of IT Training’s annual conference and exhibition. This annual conference and exhibition, to be held this year on 23 and 24 September 2009 at Chelsea Football Club in London, is aimed at all training professionals and those who need to keep in touch with the latest in improving workplace performance. 

We’ve always been big supporters of the Institute of IT Training so we’re thrilled to be able to sponsor this year’s event. To find out more about event, please visit this page.


A couple of days ago I read with interest Clive Shepherd’s latest blog post in which he refers to his recent experience on the other side of the fence, as a student rather than designer of compliance e-learning. He draws the conclusion that it’s hard – if not impossible – to create something that achieves both competence and compliance. This is a topic we’ve broached before on the Spicy Learning Blog and I admit my thoughts on this are perhaps half-formed (or, more accurately, ever evolving), but I’m not entirely sure I agree with Clive…

What’s interesting is that he goes so far as to say the material was not just interesting, but fascinating. This is not always the case with compliance training, and creating something which actually piques the learner’s interest and gets them engaged is a great first step towards really effective e-learning. The next step is to create something that doesn’t simply achieve compliance, but delivers improved performance and behavioural change.

I would argue that this is absolutely possible in compliance training. Let’s take data protection as an example: a ‘traditional’ approach might simply run through the eight principles of data protection, instructing the learner in what they must and must not do when handling personal data. There would probably also be some horror stories about the dire consequences of breaking the law (as Donald Clark says, ‘the driver is NOT learning or people development, it’s “fear”‘), and a knowledge test or assessment consisting of questions focused on the wording and definitions of each of the principles. This type of course is designed purely for compliance purpose: the organisation can prove they’ve trained their people as required and cover their back in case an individual does break the law having taken the course.

But this is by no means the only way to approach the design of compliance e-learning. A more effective data protection training course, which aims to achieve the competence or enhanced awareness that Clive found lacking at the end of his experience as well as meet regulatory requirements, would focus not on the legislative detail but on what the law means in practice to each individual learner in their day to day work. We recently produced a course that took this approach and certainly took big steps towards achieving those aims.

We did broadly structure the course around the eight data protection principles, but we didn’t begin each section with the legal jargon and then hammer the point home with threats of dismissal, fines or prosecution. Instead we used video to engage the learner and demonstrate relevance by using very recognisable everyday situations and asking the learner to identify what the issues might be. We also offered them a variety of resources including real life case studies presented as news reports and newspaper articles, a take away list of suggested dos and don’ts that they could refer to in future (rather than ‘must’ and ‘must not’ messages on every other screen) and a data protection dictionary to translate any necessary jargon into easily understandable terms. We also paid close attention to the end of course assessment to ensure that this approach was applied there as well – all the questions presented the learner with situations that they might reasonably encounter at work and asked them to identify whether there was something to be concerned about, why this was the case, what should have been done differently or what action they would recommend.

The result was a course that absolutely met the organisation’s compliance obligations, but which also engaged learners and gave them an increased level of awareness and competence. Having taken the course they may not all be able to recite the actual wording of each principle, but they have the appropriate knowledge to be able to identify risky situations or areas of concern and to take steps to avoid or remedy those situations. They also have a genuine awareness of the seriousness of the topic, having been introduced to relevant real life examples and case studies throughout the course.

Of course, there would be people who took the course and claimed the aims hadn’t been met. But the overwhelming feedback from users and experts alike is that we delivered something they didn’t expect from compliance training. My favourite comment was from the technical expert testing for accessibility purposes who reported that he actually found himself reading the content voluntarily and being interested and engaged – not often the case with mandatory compliance training!

I’m guessing there are some strong views on this out there and I’d love to hear them. What do you think? Do you agree with Clive that competence and compliance are more or less mutually exclusive, or do you think there are ways they can sit comfortably together in e-learning? Leave your comments below and hopefully we’ll get a snapshot of what the learning and development community really thinks about compliance training!


Saffron Assure is aimed first and foremost at making regulatory compliance training more efficient, letting your people download and access assessments directly on their BlackBerrys.

Not only does this mean that they can test themselves at a time and place that’s convenient for them, it also means they don’t use valuable operational time taking a full compliance course every two or three years if it’s not needed. Saffron Assure means they can quickly and easily test their knowledge and identify whether or not full refresher training is required.

Saffron Assure assessments are interactive and engaging, and are fully trackable – so completion rates and scores can be sent back to your existing LMS for analysis and compliance purposes.

Contact us to arrange a demo or click here to download more information.


If Adobe AIR is something new to you and you’re not familiar with what it has to offer, here are my top five reasons why AIR is great!

  • It’s fast – Performance increases were a major objective for the release of Actionscript 3 and Adobe AIR takes full advantage of the new performance gains.
  • It’s cross platform compatible – This means that you don’t have to get involved in any Mac vs PC debates, leaving you more time to spend on the actual application. (The latest version of AIR also supports Linux so everyone can enjoy using your application.)
  • It’s beautiful – Flash has always been a favourite for designers because it is ideal for creating rich UIs and animations. It also handles audio and video with ease too.
  • It’s re-usable – Actionscript 3 is at the core of the runtime so much of the development can be ported back to the browser at a later date if you need.
  • It’s Ajax friendly – AIR uses the WebKit rendering engine (used in Safari) allowing it to handle a variety of existing web technologies (XHTML, CSS, Javascript, Flash and PDF).

If you want to find more AIR applications the best place to start is the Adobe AIR Marketplace. You might also like to try some other great AIR applications. Here are a few to get you started:




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