L&D Metrics

How You Should Measure Learning Engagement for L&D ROI


We all know learning and development is important to any workforce, preparing it for the future and helping your employees in their career progression. There’s just one issue: Sometimes your L&D activities aren’t always successful, and you end up with a return on investment for your business than you’d wanted.

This is where learning engagement comes in. Measuring learning engagement is a key factor in understanding the quality of your learning course and how involved your employees are willing to be in their training as a result.

In this guide we’ll dive into how exactly you can measure learning engagement for your organisation’s L&D ROI.

What is learning engagement? 

Learning engagement is the learner’s ability to be engaged in learning both motivationally and behaviourally. It means engaging in the learning process effectively, by taking responsibility for their choices, engaging in learning opportunities and being proactive in taking feedback. Essentially, it’s the degree to which a learner participates in a learning experience.

Why measuring learner engagement is important

Building capability is crucial for any organisation looking to transform for the future, and training programs are the way to do that.

Enter: Learning engagement, aka the factor that ensures your employees are actually motivated to engage with your training programs—offering both continuous improvement and the development of business-critical capabilities. 

You need to measure learning engagement within your workforce to understand how L&D is benefitting your organisation and contributing to your training ROI.

When learner engagement increases, you’ll notice:

Perhaps most importantly, measuring your learning engagement is a clear method for shedding light on the performance of your training programs overall. When employees enjoy their training experiences, they’re more likely to engage—not just with their courses, but with their team members. Engaged learners breed a strong culture of continuous learning and professional development within a business, which leads to more engagement.

The challenges of measuring learner engagement

As recently as 2020, the LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report found that standards for reporting on learning engagement were still unestablished. So, the initial challenge for L&D leaders is determining what metrics and criteria are valid to measure when it comes to understanding learner engagement.

The issue is that simply engaging in learning is not equivalent to actually being engaged. Some L&D leaders look at engagement through a “transactional” lens—that is, learners put time into course, therefore they must like it. We’ve all completed assessments out of obligation rather than genuine engagement before, right? Taking completions at face value – without deeper insight into satisfaction, motivation and impact—only leads to poor data on which to base future training investments. 

So, metrics like:

…While useful, don’t accurately reflect learning engagement. They focus on the quantity of learner’s interaction with training, which might impress your C-suite, but doesn’t show the quality of said interaction.

Not taking advantage of learning opportunities

The real villain to learning engagement? Motivation.

It’s called the value-intention gap, or value-action gap. It’s when your intentions (actively engaging in learning opportunities) don’t match your actions (doing anything but). You may already know that training will help you in the long-term, but perhaps the allure more instantly gratifying is preventing you from engaging in learning.

There are other barriers too, which are especially prevalent in self-directed learning, when your employees are expected to seek out and perform training tasks all on their own. These factors range from having a lack of time to a lack of support, and even to a lack of direction or clear objectives.

A lack of learner engagement (or learner motivation) indicates wider issues in the development or promotion of your training programs.

Perceived low value

If your employees don’t see the value of training, or see it as irrelevant to their specific roles, then they aren’t going to feel motivated to invest time or effort into it. Employees need to understand the importance of training to their roles, careers, and the business as a whole, both for the short- and long-term.

You can improve the perception of training programs by making the objectives of learning clear. Employees should be shown the benefits of building capabilities for their professional development, as well as how their improved capabilities allows them to positively impact the business and drive organisational priorities. In short, personalise and align your training programs with organisational goals.

Disinterest in training content

Having unengaging or inaccessible content is just as likely to push employees away from participating.

Instead, take the time to align your training content with business objectives and tailor it to your employees’ specific needs (think: Addressing capability gaps or developing capabilities in line with industry change). This also means ensuring your content is accessible to everyone, meaning two things:

  1. Make accommodations so all learners can participate, including disability and language considerations.
  2. Make content easily available so learners can access training material without having to jump through hoops.

You can help to build up interest by outlining a capability map—a visual depiction of the organisation’s current capabilities and the capabilities it needs developed to reach its desired goals. When this is clear to your employees, they’ll understand the benefits of training in certain capabilities, how their training is aligned with the company’s goals, and an understanding of potential upward mobility in their career progression.

No sense of accountability

To be blunt, employees aren’t going to follow-through with training if they feel they don’t have to. A lack of accountability over their training courses and material demotivates learners.

You need the buy-in of managers to help combat this. Support from managers helps to create a culture of learning and encourages your employees to take initiative in their learning journey. Providing feedback creates opportunities for your employees to set goals for themselves and encourages self-reflection, thus giving them the push to get started.

The key metrics for actually measuring learner engagement

Ultimately, you want to know that your learners are emotionally engaged in their L&D activities. So, try measuring whether they enjoyed and wanted to participate in learning, versus whether they did because they had to.

In other words: It’s about the quality of the learning, not the quantity. If this sounds confusing, consider how learner engagement has a flow-on effect to business impact. At Acorn, we’ve pioneered the first performance learning management system (PLMS) to show the business impact of training programs. It’s designed to codify and operationalise the capabilities that improve organisational efficiency and empower employees to become impact players within the business.

And then consider some of the L&D metrics you may already be using, like:

Together, these’ll start to paint a clearer picture of learning engagement.

Key metrics for measuring learning engagement

1. Return on investment

This is every dollar your organisation gets back from investing in training. It hinges on how well your employeesretained information, how much they applied their new knowledge to their jobs, and how their performance and productivity has improved post-training.

Consider a Kirkpatrick Model, Phillips Model, or impact study to measure the ROI (and, therefore, learner engagement) of your training. Essentially, you want to measure how the application of skills and long-term behavioural change learned from training programs has generated positive (and negative) business impact, and identify the monetary returns of that impact.

You can also use these models to collect data on people’s perceptions of training. Take the Kirkpatrick Model, for example. The first level, “reaction”, focuses on—you guessed it—the reactions of participants. Use this to ask how engaging the content was, how useful it was, or how accessible it was to training participants.

2. Learning transfer

In short, learning transfer is the extent to which employees apply their new knowledge and skills on the job after completing a training program. You can use it as a metric to measure learner engagement because it shows whether the knowledge gained is actually generating better results and driving organisational transformation, or if training fell short.

Look at it this way: If you have a course designed to build capabilities for customer service, you’ll expect your customer service team to provide better customer service (generating better customer satisfaction) after the training is complete. If the team starts applying the knowledge they learned to their day-to-day work, you’ll be able to track the change.

On the other hand, if the customer service team doesn’t apply any of the knowledge taught in the training program, that indicates training is lacking somewhere. Perhaps it wasn’t teaching relevant information to the customer team. Or perhaps they just didn’t understand the program’s objectives. Whatever the issue, a lack of knowledge transfer indicates a need for training improvement in the future.

3. Knowledge retention

Knowledge retention doesn’t happen when learners aren’t engaged with their training. It requires reinforcement at regular intervals, feedback and reflection, and clear alignment to organisational strategy. With the right knowledge retention strategies, your employees will increase performance and productivity, leading to innovative new solutions to improve or enhance current processes.

The impact of not cultivating learning engagement

In a nutshell: Not cultivating learning engagement in your employees has a significant impact on the overall success of your business. For employees individually it means a lack of career development and skill redundancy. For your business, it results in stagnation and a loss of competitiveness.

Which means some hits to business success like:

Key takeaways

The most important thing to remember when measuring learner engagement is to ensure you’re using the right metrics. That is, that you focus on the qualitative over the quantitative.

Learning engagement is difficult to measure, but when done right, you’ll be able to see the training quality that creates an engaged learner, leading to better learning programs, increased business performance, and capable employees.

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