When defining the goals for a learning strategy, most L&D teams would probably agree that “high learner engagement” is among the key components to focus on. But what exactly is learner engagement? How can you measure the “degree” of engagement in a training intervention? And finally, what can you do to improve learner engagement? Find out the answers to these questions in this blog post.
What makes things complicated is that learner engagement does not have a clear, all-encompassing definition. The term has been used in various ways over the years. Fifteen authors would probably provide you with fifteen (slightly) different definitions. They offer differing views of between two, five, or even seven types of engagement indicators. What definition should we adopt?
When opening the Wikipedia page on learner engagement, the following quote appears:
[Engaged] students make a psychological investment in learning. They try hard to learn what school offers. They take pride not simply in earning the formal indicators of success (grades), but in understanding the material and incorporating or internalizing it in their lives. (Fred Newmann,1992).
Although this definition is tailored to students in a school setting and was developed quite a few years ago, it still applies quite well to corporate learning today. An engaged learner thus does not only learn because a reward such as a certificate, promotion, or prize is waiting at the end of a learning track. They learn because they genuinely want to understand and incorporate the information provided.
Measuring learner engagement equals measuring the quantity and quality of an employee’s participation and interaction with a specific training offering (either offline or online). There is, however, no magic formula or single metric for measuring learner engagement. Learner engagement can instead be seen more as a goal you need to pursue. Several metrics can help you determine if you are on the right track or moving in the right direction for achieving this goal.
What metrics should you measure? Especially in an online setting, where the opportunities to directly observe or assess are limited. The most important key to success is data analytics.
Given that you work with some Learning Management System or learning platform, you probably have access to a lot of data about your employees. This data can enable you to analyze the online learning behavior of your learners to derive valuable insights. Here are eight metrics to consider when measuring learner engagement, pre-, during and post learning:
Before looking at metrics that help you measure the engagement levels of your learning offering during the actual learning activity, look at your overall sign-up rates. What percentage of your workforce signs up for learning courses? Do they sign up right after you announce a new course offering? Or does it take a couple of reminders from your L&D team, managers, or marketing team before they sign up?
Measuring sign-up rates can be a great way to start understanding the learning motivation within your workforce. Additionally, it can be a tell-tale indicator of how well your learning program is promoted and which internal marketing and promotion measures work best.
Next to a general overview of the sign-up and attendance rates, completion rates can be a great way of measuring your employees’ engagement level. In an offline learning setting, dropping out of a course (as in leaving the room without explanation) is relatively difficult. It becomes much easier in an online setting because there is no one to ask questions or, at the least, look disappointed.
Therefore, it makes sense to regularly check completion rates for different courses at a team, department, and organizational level. A high dropout rate could flag that the learning content needs to be more engaging not to leave the learner unmotivated and disengaged, resulting in a dropout.
Besides regularly checking the completion rates of your training courses, you should keep an eye on your weekly (WAU) and monthly active user (MAU) numbers. If you are using an LMS system, you should have the opportunity to look up the necessary insights or see an overview on a dashboard. Even if you use an excel sheet to organize and track participation in your learning offers, you could build a simple dashboard to check learner activity regularly. The reasons for this overview are simple. Firstly, it is an effective way to evaluate the success of internal learning promotion campaigns. You can, for instance, monitor how activity changes after a particular campaign. More importantly, it gives you a good understanding of the learning habits displayed by your employees. You can deduce what percentage of your employees continue to learn regularly. The MAU, in particular, is a great indicator of users forming learning habits, as it is much harder to maintain participation over a month than a week.
Remember the characteristics of an engaged learner mentioned above? An engaged learner genuinely wants to learn and is not working through materials because they have to. Why not try to measure this kind of “curiosity” or “hunger to learn”?
One possible way to do that is by looking at the sign-up and attendance rates for mandatory vs. voluntary courses. Are your team members only doing the training classes they have to? Or are they actively looking for additional material to improve their current skill set? A high attendance rate in voluntary learning courses is usually a good indicator of learner engagement.
Learning time spent is another excellent thing to look at as an indicator of learner engagement. Are your employees learning at all? Are they learning as much as you would like them to do? Are they spending more time on learning than you planned or anticipated initially?
You could use this information not only for your L&D or management team but also to provide your employees with an overview. For example, establishing a leaderboard highlighting the top learners of the week, month, or year based on learning time spent. This is not only a great gamification feature to foster internal competition but could also boost learner motivation and engagement. If learning time doesn't work for you, you could also think about implementing some kind of “learning point” system. You could base the points, for example, on the difficulty of certain materials and compare employees based on the learning points gained.
Every company has to determine the amount of time they want their employees to spend on their personal development. In our experience, if your employees spend 5-10% of their work time on learning, you are definitely on the right track. 😉
What usually needs to be added in an online-learning environment is the opportunity to interact with a trainer or fellow learners during a course. If your learning platform does not offer chat features, you could try to create such opportunities yourself by installing a learning “channel” in the tools you use, such as Microsoft Teams or Slack. Both collaboration tools also offer analytical insights. Among these are the number of direct messages sent, days active, and the number of likes and comments given by a person. An engaged learner would be more likely to pose questions, participate in discussions and interact with learners and trainers. Measuring the number of comments and reactions per individual learner, team and ultimately organizational levels provides another opportunity to infer a level of learner engagement.
Even if it may seem old-school, one way to measure engagement that shouldn’t be left out is the usage of feedback surveys. Actively ask your learners for feedback. Be it ratings (on a scale from 1-5) on learning materials and whole courses or written feedback via an online or offline evaluation form. Both active and passive participation in feedback surveys is a great way to measure your employees' engagement level and provides you with great insights to improve your learning offer for the future.
One of the most important goals of any learning strategy is that employees must be able to use the new skills they gained during the training. Trying to measure this “post-learning engagement” is one aspect you should not ignore. Measuring this includes 360-degree feedback, self-assessment questionnaires, or reviewing specific job performance KPIs. Compare the results against the KPIs at the individual, team, and organizational levels before a learning course with the results after completing this learning offering. Can you infer increased productivity or quality of work?
To sum up.
Learner engagement is one of the most important aspects to continuously track, as it provides you with a good indication of how well your learning and development strategy is being executed. And while there are several things to assess in measuring this engagement, one thing that should be kept in mind is that data is key. It would be best if you tried to gather as much of it as possible.
We now know what learner engagement is and how to measure it, but how can you boost it within your company, especially in an online learning context? Here are our top 6 tips to improve learner engagement.
Disclaimer: Measures that work well for one company might not work for another. But we are sure you will find one or two interesting takeaways from this article. Should you have additional ideas - let us know!
For starters, you need to get your employees to participate in your learning offerings in the first place. While we will mention a few internal marketing ideas later, we first want to focus on why a learner would want to engage with the learning courses you provide.
Would you rather work towards learning goals you set for yourself or towards goals someone else set for you? Try to involve your learners actively and ideally in a standardized way. For example, you could establish regular one-on-one slots between managers and their direct reports 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.
When you involve your employees in the decision process about what to learn, you can safely say that your employee is working towards a personalized learning goal and is therefore 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 to manage a new project in their department. There are two ways this could go wrong:
She starts with topics she already knows and gets bored
She starts with topics she has no clue about and gets lost
You need to ensure that you provide every learner with the learning materials they need. Take prior knowledge and learning styles into account and design individual learning paths accordingly. Always try to include them in the process.
Additionally, you should ensure that you provide mentors (either externally or internally) that can help your learners with any questions or problems. Even though an employee works towards their individual learning goal and knows that they have a personalized learning path, they will sometimes get lost, have questions, or need guidance.
Especially in an online-learning context, it is important to ensure that learners know who to contact in case of problems. Otherwise, self-guided learning can get lonely and frustrating, and as a result, engagement will suffer.
After getting employees to start learning in the first place, you must ensure they keep learning. The best way is to make sure that your employees perceive the content as relevant, interesting, and inspiring so they don’t even think about dropping the course. This is probably also the part that takes, by far, the greatest amount of time. It could be a great idea to work with external partners on this. That way, you could ensure that 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 create content yourself, here are a few things to keep in mind apart from personalization when curating the content for your courses.
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.
The reason is simple. Using only online videos may result in high participation for you to measure (e.g., Michael watched 80% of his learning path within a few days), but more is needed to ensure that he can also recall the information he viewed.
“I do not have the time to learn” should not be an excuse. Make sure to break down your learning paths into very small, incremental snippets as far as possible. This way, the argument of “not having the time” simply doesn’t stand. Learnings of four to six minutes are possible to integrate into even a very busy schedule.
The type of skill will determine just how “short” the different snippets can actually be. For some skills (mainly technical ones), it does not make much sense to provide four-minute segments. Sometimes it can be reasonable to focus on larger chunks and block learning time for the employee to fully focus on the materials. We do, however, advise that you ensure that no learning item takes more than 20 minutes to complete, regardless of the topic it covers.
Try to emphasize the value of the content you are offering by integrating “real-world” contexts, such as practical examples or specifically designed case studies from your own company. It 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.
Motivational pieces from executives or other leadership members that underline the relevance of the learning offering for your specific business and, ultimately, the learner's personal internal career are often also helpful.
They are much more likely to grasp the benefit and value of the learning offering you provide this way.
Especially when discussing an online learning environment, it is extremely important to make up for the missing possibility of engaging with the trainer or fellow learners during a group seminar or workshop.
Try to create a vibrant online learning community. One way is to use communication and collaboration tools you are already using. If you already use Microsoft Teams, create a new channel for learning-related chats, questions, or discussions. You could appoint one “learning community manager” within your L&D department to foster those discussions and regularly post motivational quotes.
Another fantastic 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. You should also try to find a cohort “manager” that will encourage engagement and discussions.
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. They encourage and motivate each other along their learning journey.
The positive side effect is that it can also be a great way to enhance the company culture and to get to know employees from other departments!
It is no secret that involving executives is a powerful way to drive learner engagement. It is important to ensure that your executives understand the value and necessity of learning.
Very little is as powerful as “A message from our CEO.” You could create a video with your CEO stating that learning is necessary for your company's future and that he or she fully supports all learning efforts. Ideally, let them talk about things he or she would like to develop personally. Such as: “I am currently taking a course about leadership across distance. What about you?”
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, and their leadership advice would be seen as interesting and relevant for almost everyone.
The same thing applies to managers. Knowing that your manager also keeps on learning and improving is an excellent way to a) motivate and engage learners and b) improve the company culture. They could also recommend courses they did in the past. By taking courses themselves and publicly talking about it, managers and executives are no longer seen as never failing and all-knowing but as people who want to develop for the good of the company and themselves.
You can provide the best learning content, but if you do not make sure your employees are aware of it, they are not going to use it. Internal marketing campaigns can be a great way to get your employees to a) start learning and b) keep them motivated.
The top two channels to reach employees when promoting learning offerings are your company's intranet page or good old emails. 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.
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 the one hand, this helps to give employees a feeling of company cohesion, such that everyone is participating in this learning journey of Company X. On the other hand, it can also be a great internal marketing strategy that can evolve into an external one. Your employees posting on LinkedIn or Xing about their learning journey while using your internal marketing hashtag could enhance your employer branding for new potential recruits.
Similar to external marketing strategies, you could get creative and vary your campaign approaches. You could change according to the season and advertise your “Company Xs’ summer of learning” or create an internal learning advent calendar.
Although an entertained learner is by no means always engaged, it does not mean that you should not try to make learning fun.
We absolutely love this one. Who does not like healthy competition? There are several methods to foster gamification. How about creating a leaderboard (either online or physical in the office) that compares learners to other learners within their organization or team based on the number of completed courses or learning time spent?
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 2023? Make sure there will be a price in the end! A barbecue event for the winning team or a physical trophy. 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 rotating challenge cup for the learner of the month to be passed on around the office or other incentives that work well for your organization.
It is unlikely that using only one of the strategies mentioned above will dramatically boost your learner engagement levels. Instead, it will probably have to be a mix of different strategies. Try to mix it up and test what works well for your organization and what does not.
Other than that, the only thing left to say is: Commit to being creative. Continuously ask yourself: What haven’t we tried (yet)?
Any questions? Don't hesitate to reach out.
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).