5 Reasons Your Security Awareness Program Needs Continuous Learning

Someone once said, “Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching.” That’s the perfect attitude to apply towards security awareness programs.

The keyword is learning. Not to be confused with training, learning is the process of absorbing information to improve skills and the ability to apply knowledge in a real-life situation. Training is undoubtedly an important part of that, but if you want your SAP to be successful, it’s the learning part of the equation that’s most important.

This is where continuous learning becomes so vital. With continuous learning, you infuse multiple elements of information throughout a cycle of education. The process continuously introduces new information, assesses how much users learn from that information, then reinforces what they know with more information—most often in bite-sized chunks (microlearning).

It’s the best way to bridge the gap between training and learning, and an integral part of a successful awareness program. Here are five reasons why.

Because security awareness education is not a fire drill.

Depending on the era you grew up in, you might be familiar with the classic classroom fire drill where the alarm sounds and students respond in a particular manner. The drill teaches the basics of how to handle an emergency situation such as knowing where the exits are, crawling under smoke, placing an arm against a door to gauge its temperature before opening, etc.

While fundamentals are a huge part of security awareness training, the fire drill approach is subpar because it is only done once or twice a year. Front-loading your program with long-form learning modules followed up by a few post-assessment quizzes is a great way to ensure your SAP fails. End-users need to be continuously trained, assessed, retrained and reassessed. Once you start this process, your program will naturally evolve to meet the needs of your employees.

Because the threat landscape is always changing.

What’s true today may not be true a year from now. Cybercriminals will always be the ones setting the standards for how employees need to be trained. As such, a static SAP will always fall behind and remain susceptible as threats evolve.

Conversely, a program built on continuous learning has the ability to quickly react to new threats by introducing new information into an ongoing cycle of education. Even something as simple as email blasts highlighting a new phishing attack qualifies as a part of learning that’s easy to implement. A flexible SAP is a successful SAP, and it’s easier to accomplish in an environment that embraces continuous learning.

Because it’s the only way to truly assess how much your end-users are learning.

The old school lecture-and-test method provides a weak support system when it comes to cyber and information security.

Just because your employees can pass a test based on the information you’ve given to them, doesn’t mean they’re a strongpoint in your security chain. Contrary to that process, a cycle of learning allows you to present information in multiple ways, which then allows you to properly assess how much your employees actually know, and if they’re capable of applying that information in a real-life scenario.

This is why phishing campaigns with positive reinforcement are so crucial and why interactive learning modules have more staying power than standard teacher-led classroom training. Combining all of these efforts and assessing knowledge on a regular basis is the only way to know if your SAP is actually working.

Because people learn at different rates.

The common theme here is flexibility. A static program ignores what users already know. It applies a generic approach that it is good for some and not for others.

A continuous learning approach does the opposite. It allows you to blend multiple styles of education and cater to your entire userbase. For example, it’s possible that a new employee has already had extensive cybersecurity training at a previous job. You’d be wasting both time and money putting them through more generic training. Instead, with a short assessment, you are able to gauge the extent of their knowledge and place them in your SAP accordingly.

It’s especially beneficial for those that have never had training or who struggle to understand various elements of cybersecurity. We all learn in different ways. For some, elearning modules work better than videos. Others prefer text-based applications or gamification. With a cycle of education, you can continuously present information in multiple ways, covering every base.

Because you will learn what works and what doesn’t.

A hidden strength of the continuous learning method is how much it improves your SAP. Not just because your employees learn more, but because you learn which parts of your program are having the most success, and which parts are failing.

Time is always going to be of the essence in cybersecurity. The sooner you can identify the broken parts of your program, the sooner you can correct them—creating a more resilient user-base by default.

Continuous learning makes this easier to achieve for three reasons:

  1. You will constantly get user feedback. In fact, feedback is imperative to the success of your program. Encourage it regardless of what type of program you run.
  2. Since a continuous learning approach requires lots of planning ahead, nothing is set in stone. This makes it easier to modify elements of your program in a timely manner, rather than being stuck with a broken process until you can come up with something better. Essentially, you have a backup plan if your program struggles.
  3. It allows you to experiment. Remember that it’s not just the material that matters, but the way material is presented. A cyclic approach allows you to try new things without the burden of redesigning your entire plan.

There is no one-size-fits-all for awareness training. A major part of a successful approach is one that not only emphasizes a culture of learning, but also has the ability to adapt to the users’ needs. That means encouraging user feedback, identifying what they’re relating to, and making adjustments accordingly.