In large organizations such as the VA, mandatory training has become an integral part of workforce learning. Some common reasons for adopting mandatory training for all employees include showing employees management's commitment to the topic area, promoting positive change, promoting overall staff safety, and legal or compliance considerations. In some cases, such as for the topic of diversity, mandatory training efforts are directly tied to federal requirements instituted in response to employee wrongdoings that resulted in corporate lawsuits. Numerous courts have held that to avoid punitive damages, employers must provide training to their employees on harassment and discrimination prevention. (187 F.3d 1241 (10th Cir. 1999); 270 F.3d 794 (9th Cir. 2001); 281 F.3d 452 (4th Cir. 2002)) The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that “the extent to which an employer has adopted antidiscrimination policies and educated its employees about the requirement of [the discrimination laws] is important in deciding whether it is insulated from vicarious punitive liability.” (187 F.3d 1241 (10th Cir. 1999)) The costs associated with mandatory training program management can be quite high, resulting in annual expenditures in the hundreds of millions of dollars across U.S. organizations.
The laws that motivate mandatory compliance training are often broad in nature and generally do not set standards on training content or evaluation. This leaves organizations with the ability to implement training in a compulsory manner to serve a symbolic purpose, with little attention to whether their training methods are actually effective. Unfortunately, training implemented merely to serve a symbolic purpose may be creating a false sense of organizational security. Research has found that the mere existence of an anti-harassment policy is not always sufficient to protect the employer from liability (239 F.3d 848 (7th Cir. 2001)). Likewise, in an article on the effectiveness of diversity training, a Harvard sociologist indicated that there is no history of any court giving an employer credit for the mere existence of diversity training.
Mandatory training is traditionally unpopular, and there is a perception that it is ineffective and decreases motivation to learn. Some education theory-related barriers to learning that may reduce the effectiveness of mandatory training include employee resentment about their lack of control, lack of interest, perception of irrelevancy to their specific workplace context, and workplace time pressures. Considering the high cost associated with mandatory training and doubts about its effectiveness, organizations would be well served to more closely consider the benefits of their programs.
An extensive literature on general organizational training research is available to inform decisions about how to design, implement, and evaluate training in a variety of settings., The design and evaluation of training is based on a wide variety of theoretical frameworks. There is a good deal of consensus about the best practices that organizations should engage in before, during, and after training in order to maximize effectiveness. Pre-training factors associated with training effectiveness include individual characteristics such as cognitive ability, self-effcacy,, and motivation, and needs assessments. Experts recommend that one of the most important steps in developing training is to conduct a pre-training needs analysis to identify the competencies needed, training priorities, and who needs the training. Factors that matter during training include individual characteristics and instructional strategies and principles. In recent years, group training, distance learning, and computer-based training have become common training delivery systems in many work organizations. Post-training factors associated with effectiveness include the ability to use skills and knowledge gained from training, delay between training and use of skills and knowledge, social, peer, subordinate, and supervisor support and training evaluation efforts. The Kirkpatrick Model of Training Evaluation is commonly used as a framework for evaluating training programs. Organizations have struggled to conduct training evaluation due to the labor and costs involved, and difficulty with credible field evaluation. Since most empirical research is still relying on surveys to measure learning outcomes, there is still a need for more research using formal experimental designs to evaluate training effectiveness. Although there has been an increase in general training-related research, it is unclear whether the best practices identified in the general training literature have their desired effect on outcomes in the mandatory training domain.
The VA currently requires all employees to undergo mandatory training on the topics of Government Ethics, Prevention of Workplace Harassment/No Fear Act, and Privacy and Information Security Awareness and Rules of Behavior (
SCOPE: The objective of this Evidence Brief is to synthesize the literature on the effectiveness of mandatory online employee compliance training. The ESP Coordinating Center investigators and representatives of the VHA Mandatory Training Subcommittee worked together to identify the population, comparator, outcome, timing, setting, and study design characteristics of interest. The VHA Mandatory Training Subcommittee approved the following key questions and eligibility criteria to guide this review:
The ESP included studies that met the following criteria:
This Evidence Brief will