Published on

July 8, 2020

How to boost learner engagement in times of online learning?

Jannik Weichert photo

Jannik Weichert

Managing Director


Learning Hub

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Woman sitting in front of her computer while enjoying a beverage in a cafe

6 tips that will change the game

Learner engagement is one of the most important aspects for your learning and development team to continuously track. Why? Because it provides you with a pretty good indication of how well your L&D strategy is being executed.

While we already talked about the term “learner engagement” in general and also summarized a few metrics in order to actually “measure” this engagement [in another blogpost], we would like to share some of our top strategies in order to increase your internal learner engagement rate with you today.

Disclaimer: Measures that work well for company A might not work for company B. But we are sure that you will find one or two interesting take aways in this article. And in case you have additional ideas - let us know!

So, how exactly can you boost learner engagement within your company, especially in an online learning context?

1. Make it personal

For starters, you need to get your employees participating in your learning offers in the first place. While we will mention a few internal marketing ideas later on, we first want to focus on why a learner would want to get engaged with the learning courses you provide.

Include learners in the process, give them control

Would you rather work towards learnings goals you set yourself or towards goals someone else set for you?

Try to actively involve your learners. Ideally in a standardized way. For example, you could establish regular one-on-one slots between managers and their direct reports in order to discuss personal development goals. This way, learning objectives and adjustments to current learning programs could be set accordingly. Your employees own their careers. Shifting from a top-down to a bottom-up controlled learning approach and actively taking the time to discuss personal development in a separate setting can be a huge accelerator for learner engagement.

Personalize the learning experience

So given you involve your employees in the decision process about what to learn, you already ticked box number 1: Your employee is working towards a personalized learning goal and is thus much more likely to be motivated to start.

Next up: Think about personalizing the rest of the learning experience. Let’s say an employee wants to learn something about project management in order to manage a new project in her department. There are two ways this could go wrong:

  1. She starts with things she already knows & gets bored
  2. She starts with things she has no clue about and gets lost.
Seems familiar?

So you should make sure to provide every learner with exactly the learning materials they need. Take prior knowledge as well as learning styles into account and design individual learning paths accordingly. Again, try to include them in the process. For further information about how this could look like exactly, feel free to have a look at [this article] from our co-founder David (question 3).

Provide mentors

Provide mentors - either on sight or available online.

Additionally, you should make sure you provide mentors (either external or internal) that are able to help your learners in case of questions or problems of any kind. Even though an employee works towards her individual learning goal and knows that she has a personalized learning path at hand, she will still get lost sometimes, have questions or need guidance.

Especially in an online-learning context it is important to make sure learners know who to contact in case of problems. Otherwise self-guided learning can get lonely and frustrating  —  and as a result, engagement suffers.

2. Provide the right & relevant content

After getting employees to start learning in the first place you need to make sure they keep learning. The best way: the content is perceived as relevant, interesting and inspiring so your employees don’t even think about dropping the course. This is probably also the part that takes by far the greatest amount of time. So it can be a great idea to work with external partners on this one. That way you could make sure your L&D department still has enough time to focus on strategic issues rather than spending 90% of their time curating and creating content.

Whether you work with external partners or curate yourself, here are a few things to keep in mind apart from personalization when curating the content for your courses.

Use different media

Use pop-quizzes and other interactive activities.

Try to mix it up and incorporate not only videos but also text snippets, pop quizzes, drag- and drop activities and all kinds of other engaging tasks into your learning paths.

Why? Using only online-videos may result in a high participation for you to measure (e.g. Michael watched 80% of his learning path within a few days), but will certainly do not make sure that he is also able to recall the information he was was presented with.

Try to use smaller snippets

“I do not have the time to learn” should not be an excuse. Make sure that you break down your learning paths in very small, incremental snippets (if possible). This way the argument of “not having the time” simple doesn’t take. Durations from 4–6 minutes are possible to integrate into even a very busy schedule.

It is skill dependent how “short” the different snippets can actually be. E.g. for some skills (mainly technical ones) it does not make much sense to provide 4 minute segments. Sometimes it can be reasonable to focus on rather larger chunks and block learning time to fully focus on the materials. However, we would advise to make sure that no material item takes more than 20 minutes to complete, regardless of the topic it covers.

Integrate real world context

Try to underline the value of the content you are offering by integrating “real world” context: This could be practical examples or specifically designed case studies from your own company (doesn’t matter if they actually happened or could have happened). These case studies could be integrated as little challenges that the learners have to solve every time they complete the relevant materials of a certain chapter.

Also often helpful are motivational pieces from executives or other leadership members that underline the relevance of the learning offer for your specific business — and ultimately the learners personal internal career. This way they are much more likely to grasp the benefit and value of the learning offer you provide.

3. Make it social

Create a learning community + form learning cohorts

Especially when talking about an online-learning context it is extremely important to make up for the missing possibility of exchange with the trainer or fellow learners during a group seminar or workshop.

Try to create a vibrant (online-) learning community. One way is to make use of communication and collaboration tools you are already using. If you already use Microsoft Teams, create a new channel for learning related talk / questions / discussions. You should make sure to appoint one “learning community manager” within your L&D department, who will foster those discussions and regularly post motivational quotes.

Another great way to boost learner engagement is to create learning cohorts → smaller groups of employees learning similar skills. This way they could exchange knowledge, discuss and learn from each other. Again, you should try to find a cohort “manager” that will encourage engagement & discussions.

Match study buddies

undraw true friends

A program that worked really well for one of our clients is the concept of study buddies. Two learners, preferably not in the same department, that want to develop in a similar area will become study buddies; encouraging and motivating each other along their learning journey.

Positive side effect: It can be also be a great possibility to enhance the company culture and get to know employees from other departments!

4. Make learning a priority

Get managers and executives on board

It is no secret that involving executives is a powerful possibility to drive learner engagement. So you should make sure your executives understand the value and necessity of learning.

“A message from our CEO”. You could create a video with your CEO stating, that learning is necessary for the future of your company and that she fully supports all learning efforts. Ideally, let her talk about things she herself would like to improve in. Such as: “I am currently taking a course about leadership across distance. What about you?”

undraw video influencer

You could also create internal learning materials with your CEO. For example record a course on leadership methods taught by your CEO. The CEO is known (and probably respected) by every employee in your company so leadership advice from her is interesting and relevant for mostly everyone.

Same thing goes for managers. Knowing that your manager also keeps on learning and improving and maybe can already recommend courses he did in the past is a great way to a) motivate and engage learners and b) again, improve the company culture. By taking courses themselves and publicly talk about that, managers and executives are no longer seen as never failing and all-knowing but as people who want to develop themselves, for their own good and for the good of the company.

5. Focus on internal marketing

You can provide the best learning content ever, if you do not make sure your employees are aware of it, they are not gonna use it. Internal marketing campaigns can be a great way to get your employees to a) start learning and b) keep them motivated.

When promoting learning offers the top two channels to reach employees usually are your companies intranet page or good old e-mails. And again it can be a huge plus to get managers on board and let them promote your offer in performance reviews or weekly department check-ins.

Use hashtags and commit to being creative

Another idea is to integrate hashtags into your internal campaigns such as #LetsDoThis or #LearnToGrow that employees can use, when posting pictures of successfully finished courses on LinkedIn or internal messengers.

On one hand this helps to give employees a certain group feeling: everyone is in on this learning journey of Company X. On the other hand it can also be a great internal marketing strategy turning into an external one. Your employees posting on LinkedIn or Xing about their learning journey using your internal marketing hashtag could ultimately result in a great employer branding for new potential recruits.

Similar to external marketing strategies you could get creative and vary in your campaign approaches. E.g. vary according to season and advertise your “Company Xs’ summer of learning” or create an internal learning advent calendar.

6. Make it fun

Although an entertained learner is by no means also always an engaged learner, it does not mean that you should not try to make learning fun.

Foster gamification

We absolutely love that one. Who does not like a good competition? And there are several methods to foster gamification. How about creating a leaderboard (either online or a physical one in the office) that compares each learner to other learners within her organization or team based on number of completed materials or learning time spent?

undraw winners
Let department A compete against department B.

Another way could be company-wide competitions. Let department A “learn” against department B. Which team will learn the most in July 2020? Make sure there will be a price in the end! A barbecue event for the winning team or literally a trophy cup. Besides being fun it will also strengthen the team spirit in the different departments.

What also typically works well are physical prices for top learners, be it fun ones such as a challenge cup for the learner of the month that will be passed on around the office or other incentives that work well for your organization.

Final thoughts

It is unlikely that using only one of the strategies mentioned above will totally boost your learner engagement. Rather it will probably be a mix of different strategies. So try to mix it up and test what works well for your organization and what does not.

We recommend to use technology as much as possible in order to minimize the workload for your L&D team. E.g. use an LMS system or learning platform that will support you in the points mentioned in strategy 1, 2, 3 and parts of the gamification features mentioned in strategy 6.

Other then that the only thing left to say is:

Commit to being creative. Continuously ask yourself: What haven’t we tried (yet)?

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edyoucated is funded by leading research institutions such as the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB), Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK).