“Words like violence
Break the silence
Come crashing in
Into my little world…”

– Martin Gore, Depeche Mode. “Enjoy the Silence” from the album “Violator

In many contexts, few people appreciate having things forced down their throats. I was reading Dan Pontefract’s blog today on the future of communication skills in organizations. This particularly got me nodding my head…

Ask yourself this question. How many times during a given week do you ignore a phone call coming into your mobile device even though you know exactly who is calling with your fancy photo-generated call display. How many times during the week do you simply collect voicemails and then decide how to respond? (ie. treating voicemails like email, often responding with a text or email itself)… How often do you utilize texting, email, direct messages in Facebook and Twitter or posts to public or private collaboration sites to reach your intended audience, be it one-to-one or one-to-many. I thought so, a fair bit, isn’t it?

People in general are filtering incoming messages that are pushed on them. They are consuming all sorts of information they choose to elect because its easier now than ever before to do so.  Phones are being designed to deal with this (“visual” voicemail, anyone?). Services like Google Voice text you the contents of the message via email or text message so you can do something else and passively glance to see who just called you so you can gauge whether or not you wish to respond, when and how.

Netflix has more streaming subscribers than DVD subscribers. Why? Because it’s fairly instantaneous and because people can decide what they want to watch in that instant. DVD requires putting stuff into a queue, a system to deal with the scarcity of the physical discs, waiting.

So many channels of communication are getting this point, but I worry that this is lost on organizations — especially when it comes to eLearning content.

The mere fact of pushing content to people that is mandated — with which people are required to interact — is a violation. When we push content on someone, we become violators of that person’s perceived right of self-determination. Certainly within the United States, I believe most consumers of content (of any kind) believe they have a freedom of choice. Making somebody see or do something they may not choose to see or do is a violation of that understood freedom.

Consider how other channels of media force people to consume their content, it  still comes down to the use of a compelling story.  The story, or narrative, is just the means of lowering the barrier for people to accept something they probably didn’t choose to see or interact with.

It is borrowing from the marketing world and if you think about the passive behavior of most “compliance courses” (easy targets for me) and television commercials, both are examples of content people are generally forced to passively observe. In fact, commercials are a pretty apt metaphor for “compliance courses,” in my opinion, because most of the time they seem to be an advertisement for actual compliance.

I’m not compliance, but I play compliance in your web browser.

With the exception of the Super Bowl, most of the time we don’t consume TV for the commercials.  With last year’s Super Bowl being an obvious exception (Go Pack!), many people watch the Super Bowl particularly for the innovations in advertising.  It’s the closest marketing firms get to launching an iPad 2.

The rest of the year, we either fast forward through commercials on our DVRs or we are forced to watch them over and over.  My least favorite are commercials that are completely not marketed to the target audience of the shows they surround.  Watch Nick Jr. once in a while for some outrageously mismatched commercials: nothing quite so wrong as an ad for “Real Housewives” during Ni Hao Kailan in the middle of the afternoon. “Real Housewives” contains real housewives acting like 2-year-olds; Ni Hao Kailan is the choice show to watch by many 2-year-olds. Slight difference, there.

This said, there are commercials that stick with us either because the narrative is compelling or because it is a violation of established narrative norms. Take this gem for example.

People LOVE this commercial. Still. Why? Because the narrative defies the conventions of typical commercials. It’s surreal, repeatedly violating (there’s that word again) several perceptions of how we transition contexts. Old Spice Guy is playing with us.

More traditionally and directly, we watch commercials by Apple and we can imagine ourselves using the device because the commercial puts our hands on those devices. We want to hold them. We want to play with them.

What are we doing with eLearning content? What are we doing with compliance? Seriously… what?

Most of the learning objectives associated with “compliance training” deal start with “The Employee will be aware of…. ” Do you want people to just be aware of sexual harassment policies, or do you want them to *not* sexually harass others? Chances are, most employees are aware that such policies exist. How do you sell them on the idea that those policies are meaningful? How do you get them to absorb information that they don’t want to when there are so many options already at-hand to which they can choose to pay attention?

Market the ideas conveyed in eLearning… even compliance training. If the message is disconnected from performance outcomes, then what value can the eLearning possibly have? There are many policies employees will need to be aware of for “CYA” purposes. There’s also a truth that unless the experience is compelling, they won’t participate.

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