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Stephanie Morgan Low learner engagement? Storytelling could be the answer

Ask any L&D leader to name their top 3 challenges and nine times out of ten, I’d be confident of seeing ‘learner engagement’ among them.

Low Learner Engagement Storytelling Could Be The Answer 28 8 19

In fact, in LinkedIn’s 2019 Workplace Learning report, increasing engagement with learning programmes came in at number two on talent developers’ list of priorities. 

This is probably no surprise to seasoned L&D professionals; it’s something we’ve been discussing for years and shows no sign of going away.

It seems like familiar obstacles – employees lacking the time to learn and no clear strategy in place to support the learning to name but two – are standing in the way of engagement.

But these obstacles can be overcome.

I’ve spoken a lot in the past about how L&D can benefit from applying a marketing mindset to learning.

So I wanted to explore one aspect of the marketing mix in more depth here: storytelling.

The power of storytelling is undeniable. It’s really grown with the rise of content marketing over the past few years as marketers have seen the value of ‘selling the sizzle, not the sausage’. In other words, selling the value of the product or service by focusing on its benefits, rather than the product itself.

This is without doubt something L&D can use to ‘sell’ learning.

To put it simply, you really should be considering storytelling as part of your marketing mix.

But what does storytelling actually look like in L&D, and how can it be used to drive engagement?

The art of the success story

One of the best ways you can use storytelling is by sharing success stories.

Success stories tick two very important marketing boxes – targeting your key audience and having relevant and compelling messaging. By demonstrating the benefits of your programme to your potential learners through the journey and success of their peers, you will ‘hook’ your audience into wanting those benefits and successes for themselves.

Tapping into the experiences of your learners will allow you to construct success stories showing what learners have got out of the learning. How has it improved their day-to-day working lives? What can they now do better as a result?

A learning success story showcases the journey, and ultimately, the benefits your learners have gained from participating in your learning programme.

A form of ‘user generated content’, another big marketing trend that L&D can learn from, getting learners to share their own stories will mean asking them to think and reflect on their experiences.

An effective learning success story can provide you with better measures of success to share with the C-suite, as well as hooking your learners into wanting that success for themselves.

In fact, there are other ‘hooks’ at play when you promote a learning success story throughout your organisation:

  • Social recognition: Rewards and recognition from both peers and managers can really boost job satisfaction and employee engagement. If our actively engaged learners are receiving public recognition in the workplace through promoted success stories, it will encourage their peers to want to get involved and achieve the same level of recognition.
  • Peer pressure: If you value someone else’s opinion, it can influence your own, so when you see an influential peer share the benefits they have gained from a piece of learning, you’re more likely to want to get involved.

How to make the most of the most of storytelling

Here are a few ways you can make the most of storytelling, to give your engagement the boost it needs…

1. Have a clear message

What do you want your employees to take away from the story? What should they be inspired to do as a result of reading or hearing the story? And why should they care?

Your stories should be straightforward, with a logical structure that takes people on a journey from beginning (what the knowledge gap was) to end (what has changed thanks to the learning).

Increase emotional investment by focusing on how the knowledge or skills gap was affecting day-to-day job performance, and how this has been transformed as a result. Tangible results are always good to include as it will give greater meaning for colleagues outside of the department.


2. Identify influencers

Think carefully about the role models in your organisation – who has a strong influence and valued reputation? These people will effectively be the lead characters of your stories, so they need to be at the heart of your narrative.

I would recommend getting them on board quickly, as they are your strongest allies when creating an effective success story.


3. Make it personal

Stories should resonate with people across your organisation, so they need to be relevant to their everyday experiences. To really hook them on an emotional level, they must be relatable, giving them something they can identify with.

Including personal reflection – the thoughts and feelings of the learners throughout the process – would be a good way of inserting some emotion.    

It’s this emotion that really hooks people in, helping them to buy into your message and get them on board with learning.

It’s all about following that famous marketing mantra: right audience, right message, right time.


4. Mix up your methods

Stories don’t have to be limited to the written word. With more digital tech out there than you can shake a stick at, why not experiment? Videos, podcasts and infographics can all deliver stories in innovative ways.

What works best for your organisation will depend on how your learners like to learn, but a combination of methods can be a good idea, as each individual is different. This could work well if you have a large, global workforce with very different needs.


5. Share it

Once you’ve crafted your success story, spread the word! Use your internal social platforms like Slack or Yammer to post blogs or articles, before sharing it across the most relevant parts of the organisation.

Adding a question or talking point to your post can spark an ongoing dialogue among learners, driving engagement in the story and extending its reach.

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Want to find out more about using marketing to hook your learners? Download our guide, ‘Marketing like an L&D Champion’: 

Download now

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Stephanie Morgan FLPI, Director of Learning Solutions, Bray Leino Learning

Sharing ideas and observations to help improve performance.

Follow @stephanieLandD

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