Why Associations Should Offer Ethics Courses Online



There is an ongoing trend in immersive and meaningful continuing education: it’s being offered online. The approach is becoming ever more popular as a way to prevent and reduce unethical behavior in a variety of industries.

From the American Psychological Association and National Association of Professional Engineers to the American Bar Association and American Medical Association, associations and industry sectors have adopted codes of ethics. In order to be effective, these commitments require ethics programs centered around providing core knowledge and guidance on how to make the right decisions in difficult situations. For associations, online education is one of the key ways to ensure ethics training reaches all members and that members have access to information when they need it.

But why care about ethics?

Organizations around the world are becoming more concerned with ensuring ethical behavior in the workplace. They’re creating and implementing behavior standards — and prioritizing staff’s ability to distinguish and understand the seriousness of right and wrong conduct.

There are several reasons why organizations implement an ethics program, which typically consist of reporting mechanisms, codes of conduct and training. Sometimes these programs are mandated by government regulators; other times they’re voluntary initiatives.

Nevertheless, by aiming to create an integrity-based culture that promotes ethical behavior — by providing resources and clarity on what is meant by “being ethical”, creating transparency and openness in conversations around ethical behavior, and demonstrating and reinforcing ethical behavior —  organizations are helping create a healthy culture and environment, as well as a better overall organization given the “strong link between ethical performance and financial performance.”

It’s reported that organizations with an ethics program see less unethical behavior, but unethical behavior continues to be pervasive throughout organizations and industries. For example, in its 2017 survey of 5,101 people, the Ethics & Compliance Initiative reported that 47 per cent of respondents observed misconduct in their workplace. Just this past year we saw price collusion in pharmaceuticals; bribery in electronics; data and privacy breaches in tech; the mistreatment of customers in airline travel; and sexual assault and harassment allegations throughout media/entertainment and several other industries.

In addition to unethical behavior that captured headlines, ethical challenges arise in a variety of professions: medical professionals often confront legal and ethical challenges when asked to respect the wishes of patients, and lawyers have to respect the confidentiality and fiduciary responsibilities that come with the sanctity of client-privilege.

Ethical challenges are pervasive in the workplace. It’s critical that your members understand how to identify and respond to these situations.

How can continuing online education help?

Continuing education is most often aimed at adult learners who, according to expert Malcolm Knowles, share five traits. Adults learners are independent and self-directing; have a wealth of experience that can be recalled and applied when they’re asked to absorb lessons; are ready to learn when it will impact their immediate reality; are more interested in problem-based learning; and are motivated to learn based on internal factors like self-esteem and quality of life. Essentially, adults learn best through active approaches that emphasize problem-based learning and peer-to-peer interaction.

Online education often involves assigned readings and videos where learners are hearing from experts in the field. This often means that your association’s members for example do not have to retain all information at once and can replay areas that may be challenging to understand. Ethics training, in particular, requires intensive discussion that requires learners to analyse complex case studies and scenario-based problems. Learners are also often required to put forward, as well as defend, their ideas and solutions to ethical dilemmas. In the face of being a remote experience, the learning is immersive and engaging. In fact, several organizations have implemented online ethics training that considers and incorporates the aforementioned elements. For example, the Children’s Mercy Bioethics Center in Kansas City, Missouri, delivered a program for its Certificate Program in Pediatric Bioethics that afforded busy adults the opportunity to have self-direction and learn around their own daily obligations. The result was thoughtful and reflective online discussions, that were documented and open to moderation from a teacher, among students who might have refrained from participating in face-to-face class environments due to shyness.

The greatest benefit of continuing online education is its ability to provide just-in-time education. For example, in light of the #MeToo campaign as well as recent data scandals involving Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, continuing online education could be used to provide immediate and relevant company-wide training on sexual harassment and professional conduct, as well as training to chief data officers and data scientists on the ethical and legal responsibilities that come with harvesting personal data.

There are ethical tinderboxes just waiting to ignite. And while building an ethical culture at an organization and within a profession requires intensive and effective resources, time becomes critical when responding to ethical crises. Associations can step in and become even more relevant to their members by providing access to ethics training.






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