When it comes to learning engagement—or lack of learning engagement—I am reminded of the words of Gary Vaynerchuk. “You're always one great piece of content away from having your life changed."
Unfortunately, many employees will be waiting a long time for the one great piece of life-changing content. For example: There’s a TV show, Superstore, that takes place in a fictional big box store (set right here in St. Louis, in fact). In one episode, a well-meaning employee tries to help some customers, but it leads to a racially charged incident. In the very next scene, everyone is dragged into the employee break room to watch a VHS (VHS!) tape from the 1980s, where a woman with big hair and shoulder pads talks down to the viewer about race in the workplace.
You know what happens next: The eye-rolling, the slumping in chairs, the snide comments. It’s apparent that no learning is going to happen that day. No lives changed either.
To me, that one scene nails what is wrong with so much corporate training today. Although we can laugh about it when we see it on TV, it’s actually really bad for the long-term health and viability of organizations. All the more reason to share what we’ve learned here at ej4 about improving learning engagement.
Why Should Learning Engagement Be a Priority?
The kind of disengagement described above occurs more often than we’d like to think, and it really is bad news. When employees are fully engaged with training material, however, there are a number of benefits:
- Information retention. When employees are actively engaged with what they learned, they are much more likely to retain (and use) that information, giving you a much better return on your training dollar.
- Employee experience. Everyone has, at some point in their career, sat through a boring presentation where no one was “really present,” and both speaker and audience were just going through the motions. This can (and does) happen with assigned training courses as well, and it makes people dread both training and working for the company as a whole.
- Learning culture. On the other hand, when employees are ready and eager to learn, it helps build a better learning culture, which in turn benefits the organization.
- Signaling employee investment. Quality training signals to employees that they are valued. Employees can tell whether or not you really care about them, and training is one of the most straightforward tells. Employees who feel their companies care about them are more likely to stay with the company, work overtime, and put in a day’s quality work. Businesses with an engaged workforce are also more likely to attract new and qualified employees.
- Growth. Businesses don’t magically grow on their own. People grow a business, through hard work, innovation, and visionary thinking. So growing your people is one of the most straightforward ways to grow your business. (As we say here at ej4, “People grow business. We grow people.”)
My Top 10 Tips to Improve Learning Engagement
For some, I might be preaching to the choir. Most people I talk to don’t need to be convinced that learning engagement is a good thing—they want to know how to do it. Here are the things we have found, over the years, that work well to keep employees engaged with learning and development training:
1. Have a strong launch and regular reminders
Yes, you need to market your training programs internally to encourage people to use them. That’s why we offer a client marketing tool kit to help our clients launch their training as part of their overall implementation. The kit includes posters, email templates, and promotional videos, all aimed to get employees on board from the start. We also provide a list of launch tips based on past client successes.
2. Use the most engaging content
It’s obvious, but it needs to be said. Content should be fresh and up to date and use elements that have been scientifically proven to be engaging: Live presenters on camera, unexpected design elements, creative use of sound effects and graphics, music, and, of course, the occasional use of humor. In some cases learning content can be entertaining.
3. Make topics interesting by making them personal
Many training courses have relevance not only to our work lives, but personally as well. Make sure these are in the mix. Many employees are looking for personal development. For example, courses on emotional intelligence and empathy are always crowd favorites, as are courses on interpersonal communications, and health and wellness.
Granted, some topics aren’t that interesting by themselves. A course in forklift safety, or Microsoft Excel, or compliance, isn’t going to make the top of anybody’s “must see” list. But even these topics become more interesting when they are made more personal. For example, does that safety course go into detail about what could happen to the viewer, specifically, in his or her job if certain safety tips are not taken seriously? Does that Excel course give them specific tips or tricks for being more productive? Are there different versions for employees and managers? And so on. In fact, our courses on forklift safety are some of our most watched courses.
4. Encourage them to review and apply the information to real-life situations
This is tricky, but it really does reinforce the learning. Suppose an employee has just taken a diversity course on working well with others. How do you get that employee to think more deeply about the content he or she just watched? How do you get him or her to think about their own situation, and how this new information applies?
At ej4, we encourage learners to further engage with content by offering downloadable student materials. These materials review the content and ask the learner questions to help them think through what he or she just watched. For example, take that course on working well with everyone. Our student materials ask the learner to think about where they themselves fall on the diversity continuum, which is covered in the video, and what concrete steps they can take to improve in this regard. (I recommend you watch the course mentioned on our compliance training video page.)
5. Test their retention
Another way to get learners engaged is to quiz them on the content. By having a learner recall information, it helps move those new skills and behaviors from their short-term memory to their long-term memory. Training is more efficient, so you will get much more out of your training budget.
This is why we built quizzing capabilities right into our LMS, with the 4tify training reinforcement tool. Our system sends emails with the quiz links two days, two weeks, two months, and four months after the course has been completed. Clients can customize the quizzes and run reports to verify learners have passed the exams.
6. Optimize the timing with microlearning
If a piece of training content is too long, people get restless and bored. Too short, and they don’t have time to properly engage with what’s being taught. By using the right microlearning format, training is easier to fit into busy schedules and helps maximize retention.
7. Take advantage of blended learning
Blended learning provides numerous benefits for both learners and organizations. For example, it makes training more accessible, allows for more personalized instruction, and casts a wider net to reach a larger audience. Trainers can focus more on instructional design and strategy and learners can access more content.
8. Leverage existing social networks and friendly competition
Every employee has workplace friendships and connections. Why not use these to enhance the learning experience in an entertaining way? For example, let learners share what they are viewing so they can encourage their network to do the same, just as they do on social media. Or introduce a little friendly competition with a leaderboard. All of these features can be found in our social learning technology, The Quad, and we’ve found that it’s a great set of simple tools for encouraging learners to engage with your training content.
9. Find other ways to make training interactive
Beyond quizzes, social learning, and leaderboards, there are plenty of other tools that can make for more interactive engagement with content:
- The ability to save favorites for later viewing
- The ability to make notes on a video, for future reference or for sharing with a team
- Script text, so that employees can read the transcript of the course
- Learning tracks, so employees can work toward developing specific competencies
Self-enrollment in those learning tracks, which gives employees a sense of freedom and encourages them to learn skill sets beyond what they are assigned. The more that employees can go back, re-engage with material, and put it into a larger context, the better they will engage with that material overall.
10. Increase accessibility
Even if you’re following all of the above tips, the truth is that learners will be in control of their training. The more convenient, relevant, and impactful the training materials, the more control they will have.
Take timing, for example. Some learners might prefer to learn early in the day, while others would rather engage with training after hours, when the hectic workday is over. Some learners might prefer to learn in short bursts of training, while others like the equivalent of a Netflix binge-watch. And many learners want the opportunity to brush up on a topic right when their need arises— for example, if an employee finds himself placed on a team with a person he can’t stand, that could be an ideal time to take a course in the Respect series. When you make training accessible, learners are in control and, as a result, learn better.
This is why your employees need to have access to training content 365/24/7. Employees can then take advantage of self-directed learning—learning at a time that is best for them. Your high-potential employees (HiPos) will especially appreciate the opportunity to learn and advance their careers.
Don’t underestimate the advantages of having mobile learning, either. Imagine your sales reps being able to review a brief video about answering objections or closing sales right before an important sales call. Or a team leader reviewing a video about team building before the group’s first meeting. Having information on hand, when it’s needed, can be one of the most engaging tools of all.
Do You Have Tips, Too? Or Just Want Help With These?
If you have other tips, we would love to hear them! In the meantime, if you are interested in some of the content or learning engagement tools I mention in this article, I recommend you sign up for a full-featured, full-library free trial of our LMS, Thinkzoom.