3 steps to increase learner engagement for organizational success
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Nearly 4 in 5 employers report difficulty finding the skilled talent they need in 2023. And 71% are prioritizing upskilling and reskilling their current workforce in response.
However, making learning a priority and increasing the number of training and skill-building opportunities won’t bring value to your business if your talent doesn’t actually engage with those opportunities. At the end of the day, a learning and development (L&D) program is only as valuable as the engagement it initiates from the employees who participate in it.
So to be able to respond to talent shortages and skill gaps, L&D leaders must ensure not only that their L&D programs align with business goals but also that their learners are actively participating and invested. Engaged learners are more likely to absorb and apply new knowledge effectively, leading to improved job performance, a culture of continuous learning, greater employee satisfaction, and professional development.
But effectively engaging learners is easier said than done. In this article, we’ll explore four concrete steps to increasing learner engagement that can help.
We’ll look at:
1. What learner engagement really means, including characteristics that identify an engaged learner
2. 4 shifts to make to establish a learning culture
3. The latest learner engagement strategies
4. How to measure learner engagement
What is learner engagement?
Learner engagement refers to the extent to which learners are actively participating and interested in their learning experiences. Engaged learners are more involved in and curious about the content they are studying, which ultimately leads to better comprehension, retention, and the likelihood that they will apply their new knowledge to tackle challenges at work and in life.
How do you know if your employees engage in learning?
Engaged learners simply lead to better business outcomes. But how do you know if a learner is truly engaged?
Engaged learners are:
- Responsive: They participate in activities, answer questions, and are eager to share their opinions and ideas.
- Curious: Engaged learners go beyond course material and seek out information to deepen their knowledge and understanding of a subject. This can look like doing their own research or asking questions that stimulate new discussions.
- Intrinsically driven: Engaged learners take the initiative to learn. They are motivated by their own internal goals and don’t need to be prodded to accomplish a task.
It’s also important to note that just because a learner is entertained doesn’t mean they are necessarily engaged. While it’s a good sign if training is holding a learner’s attention, it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
True engagement reaches learners on three levels: cognitive, emotional, and behavioral. In other words, learners will feel stimulated mentally, connected to and excited by the material, and willing to apply the knowledge learned through actions.
The first step to creating a company full of engaged learners is creating an environment that fosters it. That means moving beyond conventional, top-down learning approaches to more modern approaches that put the learner in the driver’s seat.
As L&D expert Lavinia Mehedințu aptly puts it:
"Let's stop pushing learning down people's throats. Too often, managers decide who attends what learning opportunity. In this scenario, it's likely that a significant percentage of your learners didn't opt to be there willingly. The outcome? The low engagement we all lament, leading to ineffective use of resources."
To truly empower employees, L&D leaders should encourage employees’ strengths, curiosity, and independent decision-making. Keep reading to find out how.
Step 1: Develop a learner engagement culture
With rapid technological advancements and increasingly short shelf lives of skills characterizing the future of work, learner engagement activities must adapt to the new norm. This first starts with the company’s learning culture.
L&D consultant Anamaria Dorgo argues that while learning culture is an alluring concept, it can also be hard to grasp.
“It's fluffy and abstract, but this shouldn't stop us from having conversations about it,” she says.
“We can spot glimpses of it. And we definitively can make small and important shifts from wherever we are in the organization towards this ideal."
Dorgo pinpoints those four key shifts L&D leaders can make to cement a learning culture in this current climate:
1. Enabling learning by transitioning from a “sage-on-the-stage” to a “guide-on-the-side” approach
Rather than siloing L&D, everyone within an organization should be viewed as a subject-matter expert and learning communities should be developed across the organization.
2. Moving away from “one-to-many” models of teaching to “many-to-many” models
Tying into the point above, companies should offer alternatives to traditional modes of teaching (i.e., instructor-led training and video training libraries) and also add more group-focused methods, including interest groups and learning communities, hackathons and play days, or self-directed learning initiatives, to name a few.
3. Shifting from a one-time, isolated learning environment to a continuous and context-rich one
Learning should be integrated throughout the employee experience, rather than just during specific moments like onboarding or when a new service or product is being launched. Learning platforms should be a constant, with access to learning options always available.
4. Transitioning from technical and soft skills to power skills and more “human capabilities”
Rather than offering role-specific technical knowledge, power skills blend hard and soft skills to help individuals develop overarching abilities that can help them respond agilely to changing market needs. Examples of power skills include leadership capabilities, critical thinking, and storytelling.
With these overarching shifts in mind, the next step is developing strategies to help improve learner engagement.
Step 2: Embrace innovative learner engagement strategies
Keeping learners focused and engaged has never been more challenging in today’s attention economy. Gone are the days of boring lectures and memorization-based tests. Below, explore a handful of the innovative approaches that L&D leaders are using to push the boundaries of learning.
1. Immersive learning
Immersive learning experiences such as virtual reality (VR) can be particularly powerful for learner engagement as they plunge employees into real-life simulations, eliminating opportunities for distraction and giving users a chance to directly interact with educational content. In the hospitality industry, immersive learning is already enabling talent to practice key skills like cross and upselling while drastically cutting down on the time needed to teach those skills — from days to minutes.
2. Personalized learning with AI
AI can be an efficient and cost-effective way of providing tailored instruction and feedback to learners through an app. It’s an interactive and fun experience where learners engage directly with content, resulting in effortless and convenient learning, boosting confidence, and ensuring maximum engagement when training skills. It’s also very flexible, as it doesn’t require in-person training and you can learn independently via your mobile — when and where you want. For example, with Lepaya’s AI Coach, employees can record themselves presenting, upload the video, and get instant, individual feedback on their verbal communication and posture in a safe space.
3. Bite-sized learning
Bite-sized learning is all about breaking down content into digestible chunks, allowing employees to work at a self-guided pace and helping them take ownership of their learning. Bite-sized content can help explain frameworks and theories, send nudges, and provide opportunities for learners to set personal goals — all in an attention-grabbing way.
4. Learning in the flow of work
Traditionally, learning used to take place in isolation from work. Participants would go to a specific location, listen to a presenter, and attempt to absorb information, often finding that it faded quickly from memory. However, the concept of learning in the flow of work is changing this narrative. Now, even those with busy schedules can incorporate learning seamlessly when training is available on their laptops through platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams. Moreover, learning in the flow of work ensures that individuals have direct access to the information they require at any given time, rather than being restricted to class hours.
5. Involve your C-levels
Involving your C-levels is essential to fostering a learning culture in global companies, because when executives are on board, learning engagement can only increase. The 2021 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report shows that 63% of L&D professionals agree that L&D has a seat at the executive table. And in their 2023 report, 50% of L&D professionals said they are working more closely with executive leadership, up 7% from the previous year.
Engaging with your C-levels means including them in the learning process, whether by investing in an internal learning program or hosting fireside chats. Such an example helps employees engage with C-level executives in a more human way by learning from their experiences, wins, and challenges.
To decide which strategies are right for your organization, it’s important to consider your industry context. Where can your employees fit learning into their schedules? What are their biggest barriers to learning? What excites them most? These are all questions to ask when evaluating which approach to take.
Step 3: Measure learner engagement
So you’ve made your shifts, fostered a vibrant learning culture, and tailored your learning engagement strategies to your industry. Now comes one of the most critical parts of the process — and one of the most difficult — measuring learner engagement outcomes. This is not only crucial to prove return on investment but also to understand if your training programs are actually contributing to your employees’ continuous learning and career development.
So, what should you measure?
While it may be tempting to stick to easy metrics like course completions, visits to course material, time spent, and program results, these often don’t reveal the underlying motivations and feelings of the learner.
As L&D platform founder Blake Proberts sums it up:
“Simply engaging in learning is not equivalent to actually being engaged.”
Instead, Blake suggests that L&D leaders should be looking at:
1. ROI + perceptions of training
The idea is to assess both how employees felt about the training as well as if it led to tangible changes in employee behavior that impacted the bottom line. This can be assessed through surveys, feedback forms, employee observations, and other methods using a Kirkpatrick Model, Phillips Model, or impact study as a framework.
2. Learning transfer
It may sound obvious, but it is crucial to check if training activities produced the intended results. For example, if your company ran a training program to increase usage of a new software application, you will want to check if there was an uptick in usage of that application. If the app is still being underutilized, then that likely means something is missing from the training.
3. Knowledge retention
Learner engagement can’t just be judged right after training is completed. The true sign of if a program is effective is if learners retain the information over time. To gauge this, companies should send out periodic reinforcement lessons or nudges and check the results of those activities.
Once you have measured and deciphered your results, use those insights to make improvements to your learner engagement strategies — iterate until you get the results you seek.
In today’s competitive world of work, fostering a culture of engaged learning is critical to keep employees prepared and businesses one step ahead of the game. Engaged learners are not only more likely to absorb new knowledge, but they are also more likely to put their newly acquired skills into practice at work, which in turn, leads to improved job performance and benefits for the company.
With a range of innovative learner engagement strategies available to engage globally distributed teams, it’s important to contextualize strategies for your industry and center the needs of your employees. When your L&D strategies are created with learner engagement in mind, they will lead to increased ROI, learning transfer, and knowledge retention. This will ensure that L&D plays a strategic part in your business success story.
Want to learn more about how you can use learner engagement strategies to upskill your talent? Book a call with one of our consultants today.
Lepaya is a provider of Power Skills training that combines online and offline learning. Founded by René Janssen and Peter Kuperus in 2018 with the perspective that the right training, at the right time, focused on the right skill, makes organizations more productive. Lepaya has trained thousands of employees.Read more
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