Tips for Increasing Engagement in Online Learning

By David James

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


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