A client came to me recently wanting to refresh their entire learning offering. They wanted to replace the outdated eLearning that dominated their current approach with something far more enticing.
But, like many of the L&D professionals who come to us in search of a solution, they didn’t know exactly what they wanted to address the problem.
What was the problem?
Low learner engagement.
Low learner engagement can reveal itself in several ways: poor programme completion rates, low usage of digital resources, and learners simply not making any extra time for learning beyond mandatory courses.
To readers of this blog, learner engagement will be a familiar phrase. In fact, it’s one of the most persistent obstacles facing us in L&D: learner engagement is still the number one thing that learning professionals want to improve.
And it’s not difficult to see why.
On a basic level, if the learner isn’t engaged, then the chances of them absorbing the content are slim. Learning becomes a chore; something they have to do rather than something they really want to do.
It might be tempting to question why engagement is still such a big obstacle for L&D. After all, we have access to more advanced learning tools and resources than ever before, leaving us well placed to come up with some novel ideas.
And yet, try as we might, widespread engagement just isn’t happening.
Here are my top three reasons why it’s still such a big issue in L&D...
1. Stakeholders aren’t fully on board
Learner engagement starts long before the solution itself. If you don’t have the support of stakeholders at all levels of the business, you’re going to face an uphill battle to win over your learners.
This means you need to think about winning over managers by telling them about the wider impacts that learning can bring.
The first step to encouraging more widespread engagement, managers have a critical role to play in spreading the enthusiasm for learning: 75% of learners would take a course assigned by their manager. But only 46% of employees discover learning through talking to managers, suggesting that leaders aren’t fully convinced by the value of learning to sell it to their teams effectively.
Beyond obvious benefits like improved performance, learning can be the catalyst in your organisation for a host of organisational improvements. Better employee retention, improved motivation and productivity, and integrated cultures of connected contributors are the longer-term impacts of an on-point learning offering.
In short, it will positively influence the bottom line if done well – and what could be more important to stakeholders?
2. We’re not thinking strategically about tech
Technology alone won’t drive engagement. On average, organisations are using a staggering 19 different types of tech in their learning! Without a well-planned digital learning strategy to align tech with the needs of your learners, this abundance won’t achieve the engagement levels it should.
Although we’re big fans of digital learning, there’s undoubtedly still room for more traditional face-to-face experiences as part of a blend. In fact, there have been signs recently that experiential learning is starting to make a bit of a comeback, as the physical experience can create a powerful emotional connection.
Take, for example, forum theatre, which uses storytelling and actors to recreate workplace situations. Using fictional characters, actors present a scene to illustrate learning and spark debate.
Learners are involved throughout and can even take on pivotal roles as ‘directors’, freezing the action and guiding the actors towards a desired outcome.
It’s a classic example of what I’d call ‘subconscious learning’; participants are so absorbed in directing and acting that they don’t even realise they’re learning!
As part of a well-crafted blend, you can then use digital learning to reinforce the physical experience. You could, for example, encourage follow-up discussions on social platforms or drip-feed short quizzes via email.
Incorporating tech into a blend like this is what the strategic use of digital learning is all about.
3. We’re not making the most of data
It may sound obvious, but have you considered how your learners like to learn? If you’re putting all your efforts into creating content with all the latest gadgets, or even just dabbling with a bit of tech, you need to start by thinking about whether it will actually be useful to the end users.
This goes back to the age-old mantra of starting with the ‘why’ before the ‘what’ – questioning why you need the solution you’ve settled on, rather than going straight in with whatever shiny new thing you can get your hands on. VR headsets sound futuristic and exciting, but unless your learners have a real need for it on a regular basis (and your organisation can support the tech), it may not be the best option.
So, be willing to spend some time crunching the numbers first, collecting both qualitative and quantitative insights about your learners’ behaviour to feed into your strategy. Surveys, data from your current learning platform, even talking to people across your organisation – all of this can give you a good understanding of your people.
Are they watching more videos than text-based content? Do they only get halfway through videos before dropping off? Is the content even useful to them? And how does this vary from one department to the next, or from one office location to the next?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you can then start working on personalising solutions to give you a far better chance of grabbing learners’ attention and engaging them – and maintaining it over the longer term.
In practice, this could be tailoring content to the issues learners face most often in the workplace, or customising it to their specific culture, language and learning preferences (especially important for global workforces!).
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Now you’ve seen some of the main reasons why I think learning engagement is still such a big challenge for L&D, you’ll hopefully be better prepared to start addressing it.
To see how we used forum theatre to improve managers’ awareness of bullying and harassment at one large professional public sector organisation, have a read of our case study.
Stephanie Morgan FLPI, Director of Learning Solutions, Bray Leino Learning
Sharing ideas and observations to help improve performance.