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The 7 Strategies You Need for Effectively Engaging Learners At Work


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Engaged workers are 21% more profitable, 41% less likely to take sick days and 59 times more likely to stay in a job than a dissatisfied worker. Getting them to be and stay engaged in their work starts with engaging them in employee training—but engagement is easily lusted after and stubbornly hard to attain.

Let’s break it down. What are the parts that equate to a sum total of learner engagement? It’s a triple threat of mind, body and soul, so to speak:

In layman’s terms, the keys to engagement are participation, appeal and investment. But if engaging learners is essentially about changing attitudes and perceptions, how does one effectively engage learners across the board? We break it down in this blog.

What is learner engagement?

Learner engagement refers to the extent to which learners actively participate and invest in their learning process. It also encompasses their level of motivation and willingness to take ownership of their learning experience.

The importance of learner engagement

Just as student engagement matters in the classroom, learner engagement is important in corporate learning. And just as keeping students engaged in the classroom impacts learning outcomes, engaging your employees in strategic learning and development impacts business.

Let’s say you’ve developed a strategic training and development program targeting core capabilities in each business function. The work behind this program cannot be understated; every business leader put time aside to help with prioritisation and has been sold on how capability building will impact their KPIs. Executives have been clued in because L&D, HR or OD had to explain budget expenditures for a new learning management system (LMS). Employees were told that more personalised training was coming their way, meaning clearer career progression.

And then the whole thing flopped. Engagement rates were abysmal. Performance outcomes weren’t met. The L&D budget can no longer be justified. And any promised business outcomes have not manifested. Which means:

In short: Engaging learners is an exercise in safeguarding the success of your L&D programs, and any business outcomes you’re aiming for.

The 7 most effective strategies for engaging learners

Remember the three types of engagement we opened with? Designing a training program that purposely utilises each or a combination of each form of engagement is your best bet to ensuring learners aren’t checking out.

After all, you’re likely trying to develop new behaviours and mindsets along with technical capabilities. It pays to play off the different kinds of engagement to make learning stickier.

With that in mind, there are eight learning engagement strategies worth testing out.

  1. Create meaningful learning opportunities
  2. Give employees ownership
  3. Place learning in the flow of work
  4. Encourage collaborative learning
  5. Make learning challenging and relevant
  6. Incorporate healthy competition
  7. Make learning accessible.

1. Assign meaning

rst rule of L&D: Learning must have a perceived value for learners, or they won’t have a reason to engage with it. A highly valuable reward or outcome will override most psychological (“This is out of my comfort zone”) barriers to learning, as long as there are no physical (lack of access) hurdles.

Value is determined against the time and effort they’ll need to expend to complete that task or activity. That gives you a couple of ways to make learning more meaningful.

  1. Tie learning to career aspirations or succession plans
  2. Tie learning to performance needs.

Both have tangible and desirable outcomes for business and employee, it’s just that the former looks long-term while the latter considers short-term learning interventions. Either way, we recommend a learning needs analysis to understand what is going to have the most impact.

Engagement check

Behavioural & emotional.

2. Give them autonomy

Learner autonomy doesn’t mean throwing a massive library of content at employees and saying, “Go fish.” There should still be guardrails or parameters within which they have the ability to learn at their own pace, so that learning and business outcomes are still met.

Guided learning is kind of akin to how university lecturers might engage students. They’re given the learning materials and deadlines, but how and when they do that work in the meantime is up to them. Affecting the same policy for professional development means your offering an active learning process, but you ensure that employees are spending time on programs that will positively impact their ability to do their jobs in the long-run.

Instead of giving them free reign in a massive content library, consider how you can map individual pieces of content to specific capabilities. That gives your L&D or HR team greater oversight of capability maturity at any given time, and also enables employees to self-select content that is relevant to them.

Engagement check

Behavioural, emotional & cognitive.

3. Make it convenient

Learning in the flow of work is by no means new, but it’s still incredibly impactful. Again, there are two ways to make this work.

The first is providing online courses and evergreen content that can be accessed in the moment of need. Not only does this reduce reliance on managers and subject matter experts, but it can drastically reduce time to proficiency. Plus, if you centralise this content in something like a learning management system, you can create living, breathing information repositories that all employees contribute to. That means knowledge capital is always topped up and up to date.

The second way is to offer on the job training. This may take the form of mentorships, job shadowing or stretch assignments. Here, you’re actively involving learners in knowledge transfer through social validation, and enabling them to perform capabilities in the context in which they should be performed.

In other words: Learners get instant feedback and course correction, giving them instant gratification for learning. The more frequent the gratification, the more likely the engagement.

Engagement check

Behavioural, emotional & cognitive.

4. Encourage collaboration

While we’ve already mentioned it, it’s worth calling out collaborative learning in its own right.

Social learning is one of the most teaching strategies as it gets learners to affirm and validate knowledge among one another, specifically by internalising what they see others doing in order to replicate it. An intrinsic facet of social learning is that it reinforces new behaviours, thereby motivating learners to utilise newly learned skills.

Collaborative training activities such as group work, workshops or forums further create an emotional experience that develops behaviours and mindsets such as:

Engagement check

Behavioural, emotional & cognitive.

5. Give them problems to solve

This is really just a wordy way of saying intellectually stimulate your learners. It’s been proven that solving authentic, relatable problems leads learners to self-directed inquiry, appraisal and reflection. This in turn builds new and creative ways of thinking that can be translated to problems in their day-to-day work.

Bonus points for presenting learning content in an equally interesting way such as short, sharp videos, scenario-based training and time-sensitive quizzes. Group work is also another learning angle to try; think giving a newly-formed leadership team a real workforce problem to improve by the end of the quarter. This way, not only are they flexing their problem solving capabilities (and any adjacent ones, like critical thinking, teamwork and resourcefulness), but they’re working on projects that have tangible impacts. Yes, that’s another small win for assigning meaning.

Engagement check

Behavioural & cognitive.

6. Make it a competition

If all else fails, healthy competition can spark a light in the most unmotivated of learners. Some people are naturally inclined to compete for a ‘higher’ grade than others, while others simply respond to the entertaining elements of gamification.

Points that identify progress on a scale, badges to recognise achievement and leaderboards to inject a little race-style competition encourage a few key behavioural changes: Ownership, social influence, anticipation and empowerment. Learning becomes an unpredictable game to see who will ‘win’ (aka reach certain learning milestones first).

Hot tip: Make learning goals team-based for more accountability, and to add a dash of social learning into the motivation equation.

Engagement check

Behavioural & emotional.

7. Cater to schedules

Engaging students in a classroom of 30 can be hard for teachers. Providing the exact same learning format and schedule to a large number of adults in one organisation with differing schedules, workloads and personal priorities is therefore no small feat for L&D professionals.

The solution is somewhat simple and scalable. A digital learning solution, like an LMS, offers anytime, anywhere access (and we’ll nod back to our point about guided learning here). Combined with capability mapping, which puts only the most relevant and necessary training in front of employees, you’ve got a learning ecosystem that employees can enter into when they can.

As an added advantage, this starts to put the ball back into learners’ courts. The more they see that L&D fits into their schedules and benefits their day-to-day, the more they’ll view training as a choice rather than a box to tick. (Hello, perceived value.)

Engagement check

Behavioural & cognitive.

Key takeaways

If L&D isn’t serving business outcomes, it’s not going to be serving the employees you need to enact those business outcomes. Most employees want to be learning and growing with your organisation, too, so you really don’t have any excuse to get strategic with your engagement strategies.

Take stock of your current L&D offering and ask yourself:

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