Tips for Increasing Engagement in Online Learning

Often times, tips for engaging learners in corporate online learning include external features and novel delivery methods. These range from using animations, “real-life” scenarios, game-design, leaderboards, and badges. But with learners actually spending more time learning and developing themselves outside of the corporate learning infrastructure, knowing what is appealing for them could have us directing our efforts and attention in a more focused approach that leads to greater engagement, activity and—more importantly—results.

Here are some tips based on learner preferences that could give you the results that you are seeking.

Contextually relevant content

In a recent survey of over 4,000 business people, the preferred way of learning in the workplace was overwhelmingly “knowledge sharing amongst the team.” When you also consider that learners are predominantly motivated to learn online so they can do their jobs better and faster, then contextually relevant content is a no-brainer. Linking learning to the work—and the organization—will help learners to make the connections between content and application. However, in the traditional world of eLearning this would be far too expensive and time-consuming, and that is why rapid content-creation tools are becoming more popular, so that the people who “know” and “do” can share what they know and do with those who need it—quickly and easily.

Respect learners as adults

The external features and novel delivery methods I mentioned above are fine, when used intelligently. However, if your online strategy is to design games, leaderboards, and mostly animated content then you had better have one outstanding game-design team. Even Disney initially struggled to crack the games market. This is because it is incredibly difficult and… Wait a minute, why am I talking about games when people just want to be better at their jobs? If your online learning is off the mark, then adding game-design and animations won’t improve your results. And anyway, is that how you prefer to learn? Quite likely not. Instead, just get people who know and do to explain what they know and do and the impact it has for them.

Make it real. Get real people involved—and see real results.

UX (User Experience)

People today have access to almost infinite resources online that can help them to understand and learn what they need for their professional development. The internet has provided quick and intuitive access to information, expertise, and know-how. This “consumerization” of learning means that people have developed preferences for what they want and don’t want to engage with. In an interview in May, 2015 Josh Bersin pointed out that “people today are finding the learning experience inside their company is not nearly as nice as the learning experiences on YouTube or other external providers.” LMSs are often shunned because they are clunky, not at all intuitive, and content within them (regardless of how useful it might be) is buried several clicks within the platform. For greater engagement, learning professionals need to think outside the LMS if it’s not delivering results. And if you’re worried about another system making sense to learners, look at your smartphone and all the applications you have. I bet you ignore the ones that don’t work for you and use the ones that do. We all do.

And on that topic…


We often grab the information we need, when we think of it—or more importantly, when and where we need it. Google goes so far as to say we’ve been “trained to expect immediacy and relevance in our moments of intent.” We often go to our devices during downtime, when we’re travelling, waiting, or filling time in other ways and employees are learning far more from outside of the corporate infrastructure during these periods.

It’s no longer forward-thinking to have a mobile L&D offering—it is the world we’ve been living in for quite some time. So, to not offer mobile learning now could be deemed as backward.

Build trust

If 67 percent of millennials believe they can learn anything from YouTube (as the previous link to “Think with Google” says), the fact that they can or they can’t is irrelevant—they have enough experience and trust to believe they can. You can’t build this level of trust overnight—especially with more than 70 percent of employees going to web-search as their first port-of-call when they want to learn something for their job. The opportunity for our online learning is to help people to grab what they want when they need it to perform.

Make content short, make it contextually relevant, use video, and make it real. Create the place employees know they can go when they want to be better at their jobs.


David James is a seasoned Talent Management, Learning & OD leader with more than 15 years of experience in the field. Until recently, David was Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region and has since joined as Learning Strategist.

Reprinted from LEARNING SOLUTIONS Magazine


Online Learning Gets Massive, Open

Recruiting company Aquent is using a new twist on online learning to help its clients hire next-generation Web developers.

Faced with job requests from companies that it could not fill, the Boston-based specialized recruiter for ad agencies in 2012 launched a massive open online course, or MOOC, on skills related to HTML5, the latest version of the markup language that defines how Internet content gets structured. Ad agencies need Web developers well-versed in mobile technologies such as HTML5, yet many code writers seem to lack the necessary skills to compete for available jobs, said Alison Farmer, Aquent’s vice president of learning and development.

“Even though unemployment was high, companies were telling us that most candidates weren’t qualified,” Farmer said. “We wondered: ‘How do we take candidates that may have been competitive a year ago and help them acquire emerging skills?’”

Use of MOOC formats has been confined to academia, although Aquent’s businesslike approach could signal a shift in how corporate training is delivered. MOOC providers — Coursera, EdX and Udacity, all of which are start-ups — are locking up agreements for learning content with prestigious academic universities, including Harvard, MIT, Princeton and Stanford. Even well-established software company Blackboard Inc. recently announced it was getting in on the MOOC action, adding an optional MOOC platform to its Blackboard Learn product.

Precise data on how many corporations are exploiting the MOOC format, and why they’re doing it, is elusive, but the number is believed to be small. Companies have been slow to adopt MOOCs due to concerns about development costs, privacy and security, said Chris Davia, the chief technology officer at ConnectEDU, a Boston company that develops Web-based tools for college and career planning.

Another drawback: the MOOC format is so new that companies lack a way to connect the dots between what employees learn and remaining skills gaps. Since the courses are offered free of charge, attendance and participation rates are not formally tracked. The lack of such quantitative data makes it difficult to evaluate if people are actually learning — and more important, practicing — what they have learned.

“Without the ability to securely send (information about) employee progress back to the enterprise, companies aren’t likely to incorporate MOOCs into their training and development strategies in the short term,” Davia said.

On the other hand, Davia said it’s only a matter of time before the cost of deploying a MOOC platform is on par with learning management systems. “The market for (corporate) MOOCs will start to mature when large multinational companies realize they can use it to develop their talent pipeline,” from identifying new recruits to helping employees master competencies required for job proficiency, Davia said.

Here’s how a MOOC typically works: hundreds or even thousands of students enroll in self-paced digital courses of study, which typically include virtual “lectures,” completing online graded exercises and extensive participation in collaborative online forums.

Aquent includes webinars, online forums and project assignments in its MOOC focused on HTML5. The projects are especially important since they enable aspiring Web designers to build a portfolio of digital creative work, Farmer said.

About 10,000 people enrolled to take Aquent’s free training course on HTML5, with 180 of those who completed the training receiving job placement with digital ad agencies, Farmer said. Aquent provided the course content and instructor.

The next phase of the project is Aquent Gymnasium, which launched in July. It essentially functions as a hybrid LMS-corporate university format, except without tracking metrics. It offers free courses geared to designers, front-end developers and marketing professionals.

Farmer said the courses in Gymnasium will be developed based on interviews, focus groups and surveys of corporate clients. The aim is to bridge the skills gap encountered by companies in the creative fields.

The first course in Gymnasium, “Coding for Designers,” teaches students how to transfer graphic design to the Web and focuses on the basics of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Flash and other programming languages.

People who complete the MOOC curricula receive a certificate of completion from Aquent, which serves as validation to employers, Farmer said.

Advertising agency Fish Marketing, based in Portland, Ore., is among the early beneficiaries of Aquent’s MOOC. Finding HTML5 Web developers is crucial to serving its customers, said John Moore, Fish’s interactive director.

“Web building accounts for about 50 percent of our revenue. We use HTML5 because it enables our clients to get a website that’s going to last a long time,” said Moore, who has hired Web developers that completed Aquent’s inaugural MOOC course.

Moore said MOOC-credentialed candidates have initiative — since attendance is voluntary — and can showcase a solid portfolio of completed projects to demonstrate their applied skills. “I typically give extra credit to a candidate who’s actively sharpening his acquired skill set through online training, especially for writing software code. Online training is one of the few places where you can further your coding skills.”

Farmer said Aquent is using its massive open online courses to “manufacture the workforce our clients need.” The company also has big plans for its newly christened Gymnasium platform. The early goal is to serve at least one course a year for the first year or two, with hopes to eventually add courses over time. “We would love to get to the point where we can do one new course a month,” Farmer said.

Garry Kranz is a Workforce contributing editor. Reprinted from

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