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The Challenge of Teaching Soft Skills in Web-Based Training: Ethics

Dealing with soft skills is always a challenge in web-based training. How do you model the behaviors in an elearning environment? How do you assess the learner’s understanding? It’s possible to do these things, but it requires a lot of thought and effort.

Last year, the Risk Management Association (RMA) came to us with an interesting project. RMA is a member-driven professional association that helps banking and non-banking institutions identify and manage the impact of credit, operational, market, and enterprise risk on their businesses and customers, and one of the ways that they do that is by providing training.

RMA identified ethics as a key area where they could provide value to their members, and they wanted to do more than check a box. RMA had already done some research before coming to us. They found that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to teach one to be an ethical person. Instead, the focus needs to be on identifying ethical issues and recognizing the implications of possible decisions.

RMA already had Guiding Principles that dictate what’s ethical for their credential holders, but rather than just developing a web-based training ethics course presenting the Guiding Principles and testing learners on them, RMA worked with us to identify a number of common ethical situations and ways to bring those to life. It took months of surveys, focus groups, brainstorming meetings, and content gathering, but the result is engaging and informative.

Learners are immersed in a variety of situations and asked to make the decision. For example, RMA’s guiding principles say that credential holders should make full, fair, accurate, timely, and understandable disclosures. So what would you do if your client seeking a loan discloses that they had done time in prison?

That’s a fairly easy one. Let’s try something a little harder. Credential holders might know they are supposed to ensure that the confidential and proprietary information is protected. But what if your loose-lipped cousin tells you about a client’s possible tax evasion at a family reunion?

The information may not be accurate, but failing to disclose it could cost your bank a lot of money. On the other hand, disclosing it could cost your cousin his job.

Things become even trickier if management is pushing for unethical behavior. Credential holders are supposed to exercise diligence, thoroughness, and objectivity in the conduct of their professional responsibilities, but it can be hard to do that if pressure to cut corners is coming from your boss and you’re facing an exhausting workload.

If everybody else is doing it and the alternative is a lot of late nights, what do you do?
Through our focus groups and surveys, we got some insights into what instructional strategies are best for the audience. Several participants mentioned that they really internalize content when they teach it to someone else. This led us to end each course with a mentoring scenario where learners give a colleague advice.

How would you advise a coworker who knows one of their borrowers is getting driven out of business by a competitor?

It might be tempting to ignore the problem and hope things get better before the next loan review, but that’s unlikely to be the advice you would give to a peer.
The majority of the scenarios presented are issues that bankers face regularly, and in the thick of day-to-day tasks, it can be hard to step back and identify something as an ethical issue. With this new engaging elearning curriculum, RMA’s learners have a new tool to help them do just that.

To learn more about the Ethics and Commercial Lending curriculum, visit: