In these days of increasing business, financial and political uncertainty, the traditional role of the compliance officer is changing to respond to a whole new range of challenges. In fact, given events such as 9/11 and the meltdown of Enron and WorldCom, the role has to change from one that was straightforward and compliance-driven to one that is anticipatory and risk-focused - regardless of where that risk originates.

For the most part, government regulations and corporate SOPs define the behavior of employees and management. Consequently, effective education stands center stage for both regulatory compliance and risk management. Although there are many educational methodologies, blended learning - combining classroom and online methods - represents the most practical and effective approach to reducing an organization's risk profile.

Blended learning

Blended learning matches the best instructional strategy, either classroom or online, to the specific subject matter. Both categories of instructional strategy offer distinct benefits for specific types of education, and both impose drawbacks.

Traditional, instructor-led training represents about three-quarters of the training activity conducted by U.S. businesses. It can be highly effective, particularly when the training is conducted by an expert and focuses on hands-on activities and behavioral modeling, but it can be time-consuming and expensive. Oftentimes, scheduling conflicts can create problems, and inconsistency among instructors can also be a drawback.

Online training or e-learning represents an alternative to traditional, classroom training. It, too, is a tool with both advantages and disadvantages. E-learning is especially effective when the subject matter is procedural or technical, such as regulations or procedures, and when the students are geographically dispersed. It's also effective when a large number of students require instruction and when there is an ongoing influx of new students. Online training offers consistent instruction, flexibility in scheduling, and does not require travel, further reducing costs.

E-training elements

A good e-learning program is not merely an expanded "email" program. The goal of any training program, remember, is changed employee behavior, not merely the distribution of information. Some of the most important elements of an effective e-learning program are as follows:

1) Instructional design is the most critical element of an online learning initiative. When implemented correctly, instructional design triggers learning events that transfer knowledge and modify behavior. Key elements include a statement of objectives, effective use of animations and graphics, a high level of interactivity and exercises that support key points of learning.

2) Failsafe documentation is critical in the event of a regulatory audit, incident investigation or legal action. The ability to produce documentation showing that the organization has taken measures to educate its employees helps protect the company against penalties and litigation.

3) Technology infrastructure must be optimized to drive the data management and online courses. Components such as the underlying code, the design and fundamental scalability of the database, the server configuration and available bandwidth are all essential considerations.

4) Appropriate curriculum is mandatory, with online courses matching appropriate job descriptions, work tasks and regulations of the employees for whom training is intended.

5) Accessibility is one of the great advantages of online training. A Web-based strategy enables a company to reach all of its employees, regardless of their physical location, and to provide access day or night.

6) Usability results from well-designed courses that are intuitively logical.

7) Security over the Internet is a major concern. Security measures must be incorporated in training programs as well as to ensure that all user data sent over the Internet is encrypted, that industrial-strength firewalls prevent access by unauthorized users, that user data is backed up at all times, and that software which stores user data is secure.