Online Regulatory Training a Big Step for Industry
NAFFS Staff Report
For a trade association to survive – and thrive – for more than a century, it’s got to anticipate and respond to changing landscapes. NAFFS did just that once again in 2020 with the development and release of its online regulatory training program.
The newly formed NAFFS Education Committee turned to Dr. Nancy Higley for guidance. Higley has more than 40 years’ experience leading regulatory and ingredient safety organizations. Today she is the president of Regulatory Connections, LLC. In that capacity she’s a well-known consultant to food, beverage and flavor companies, helping them to establish compliance from concept to consumer. Higley works with companies at the innovation phase to assess compliance and regulatory hurdles and offer alternative solutions.
In recent years, Higley developed Regulatory Bytes e-Learning and combined it with a learning management system to create a series of regulatory programs designed to increase compliance. Her many years of experience in the flavor and food-ingredients industries have helped her forge many connections to NAFFS membership. Higley and the committee members worked together to identify topics for which the industry was lacking in training and to determine which modules should be prepared first. Then, Higley went to work producing modules.
In 2020, NAFFS released two courses as part of this program. First, in April, was “Gluten-Free Claims USA”, followed by “Food Grade USA”. “Nutritional Facts Panel, USA” and “Sulfite Use & Labeling, USA” expected in the near future. Higley, who provided an overview of the program at the 103rd NAFFS Convention, said the Nutritional Facts Panel module is very timely because of the Jan. 1, 2021 compliance date for all companies for the updated nutritional facts label requirements.
In terms of logistics, Higley said each user has his/her own unique access to the portal. A profile can be developed to help the user or the administrator with the tracking of progress. Accomplishments, badges and a schedule of training yet to be completed can be kept in the user profile.
“This training is convenient for all and carried multi-device compatibility, including tablets, desktop and mobile devices,” Higley said while walking attendees through a demonstration. “It’s straightforward, easy to use for people of any level of experience or comfort level with technology.” The timing of the introduction of the training, she said, was fortuitous because it provided an option for ongoing training just as many employees were forced to begin working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also helped NAFFS be part of a growing trend, she said, citing a Forbes article that the “state of education was morphing into this new and exciting format long before 2020.”
Higley said she’s taking care to ensure the programs are written to offer high-level content in a simple-to-use format. “Knowing that the NAFFS membership is so diverse, the training is designed for regulatory professionals and non-regulatory staffers alike,” she said. “It’s broken into six modules, each with a foundation/core level, an intermediate level and an advanced level.”
Combined, the modules will cover ingredients, ingredient approval, ingredient product labeling, certifications, product claims, international compliance, nutrition, labeling and nutrition claims.
As each course is released, she explained, it’s offered in several formats. A staff member who does very little regulatory work will still benefit from this training, she said, but may not want to invest the full amount of time and energy to a certain topic. For these learners, she created “micro-learning”, which offers the users a brief session with the most important definitions and overview. For those that need to review the material later and use the content as a reference tool, there is an e-book option.
The third piece is the full training. “It has all the bells and whistles, full interactivity and interesting content” said Higley. “It’s designed to be engaging. There are knowledge quizzes included. You can even have a pre-knowledge quiz just to see where you begin. That’s not part of the certification; it’s just for the user’s personal understanding of where he/she is beginning.”
Higley said that in line with results of research on human behavior, but on millennials in particular, a gamification element was added to this regulatory training. Users can gain points for completing modules and badges can be earned. This is in addition, she said, to the standard certificate of completion that is included.
Finally, there’s the section for resources and links. Higley said she likes to keep them all in one area to make sure they are constantly checked for active links.
Higley said this format has several advantages over in-person training. “First, is the obvious lack of travel expense. Getting people to stop what they are doing to gather for training can also be a different kind of expense to the company. Online coursework is convenient and cost-effective,” she said.
Another benefit is the ability to constantly update the content with the most-recent changes and additions. “For example,” said Higley, “just as the Gluten-Free Claims training was rolled out, FDA announced its final rule for gluten-free for hydrolyzed products. We were able to update it on the spot!”