Best practices for learner engagement

Apr 05, 2022 by Erin Becker

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A question that comes up often in our conversations with people in charge of learning initiatives at their organization is, how can we get our learners more engaged?

The pace of work is increasing. Managers are dealing with the transition to hybrid work. Employees are struggling to keep up with their daily tasks. And over and over, we're hearing that although organizations understand learning is important, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find the time and focus to engage with that learning in a meaningful way.

Fortunately, there are learner engagement best practices to help with just this, and our customer success team at Nomadic works with clients to put them into action. To get some tips for keeping learners engaged, I sat down with Nicole Noble, one of our client success managers here at Nomadic. Nicole had some great ideas for how to drive learner engagement through communication, shared ownership of the learning experience, specific goals for learning, and understanding and addressing the reasons learners might become disengaged in the first place.

I really loved our conversation, and I think you’ll find it useful, too!

Learner engagement best practices

Erin: Nicole, I’m really interested in hearing your perspective on learner engagement. Because I know this is something that you’re helping people with every day.

Nicole: Learner engagement is something that comes up very consistently in my role. Part of my job as a client success manager is to really look at a team's engagement within the Academy and help them use best practices to increase or maintain that engagement. In my conversations with clients, we’ll go through the analytics from the Academy together and break down what their engagement looks like. Then we'll compare that to their goals in the Academy.

Erin: What are those conversations like?

Nicole: It’s definitely candid. I’m not there to judge their learner engagement; I'm simply there to provide the best experience and help them reach their goals.

Erin: I know there are some go-to learner engagement strategies you use to help clients achieve those engagement goals. Can you talk a little bit about how you walk people through this?

Nicole: First, I think the key to engagement is clear communication. Communication of the ultimate learning goals is important. If an organization hasn’t communicated those goals to their employees, engagement can suffer. The employees don’t understand the purpose of the learning, or why it's important to take this time to invest in themselves.

L&D communication plans that drive learner engagement

Erin: So it sounds like that up-front communication about why learning matters is really key. What about the communication beyond that?

Nicole: One broad best practice is not just up-front communication, but also consistent and ongoing communications. Depending on the team, this could be weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly, and it can take many different forms. It can highlight a new Program, it could highlight a new Resource, it could highlight one of their champion learners––someone who’s deeply engaged in the Academy. It could be an informal interview with a champion learner, asking them some things they've learned, questions they have, how they've integrated what they learned with their daily tasks.

Erin: Showing how the learning is relevant to their work, reminding them it’s important.

Nicole: Exactly. For clients who are still looking to increase their engagement, I suggest bringing up the Academy in global huddle sessions, or considering holding some recurring calls related to the Academy. Something that we’ve found successful is when a senior leader is on a global team call and they either mention something about the Academy or spotlight their champion learners on that call. It can be really effective in just bringing that attention back to the learning and reinforcing those learning goals.

Increasing learner engagement through shared ownership of the learning

Erin: What other best practices have you seen drive engagement?

Nicole: One of my clients in particular, Autodesk, does a great job engaging learners and making the learning relevant to their work. They do things a little differently in the sense that they have no set assigned Programs that people have to go through, but rather, what their learning leader Anton does is that he communicates which Programs are coming up next and then gathers a group of learners who’d like to take that Program together. They break up into small learning circles and hop on a biweekly 30-minute call to talk about what they’re learning and how they can apply it at Autodesk. They also meet with their teams––their colleagues who aren’t taking the Program––to share out their learnings, too.

Erin: That sounds really cool. I like that the learners are seeing that need in their daily work, and choosing to take a Program that will help them. And then sharing out this learning with their team. It sounds like they have a lot of ownership in the whole process.

Nicole: Yes. Autodesk does such a good job of providing that ownership to learners. They also make it clear to their employees that they value the time spent learning.

Erin: What does this look like at organizations where employees aren’t choosing which Programs to take? Where there’s a set curriculum, and so maybe it’s a little trickier to feel that sense of ownership.

Nicole: Sure. Thinking of another client of mine, they do a great job of this. Yes, the goals and the curriculum are top-down, but they utilize their senior leaders to communicate the “why” behind the choices. They’ve also made the learning really relevant by integrating the Academy into their internal processes. For example, for monthly or quarterly one-on-one sessions with their direct managers, employees review what they learned in the Program or talk about questions they have about the Program content.

Erin: Interesting. So it’s really woven into their conversations around their job performance.

Nicole: Yes. And that's very effective for learner engagement. Because although they may be requiring completion of a certain Program, at the same time, they're still empowering their employees: the learning is used as a tactic for development, and can lead to raises, promotions, that sort of thing. It’s not a task––it’s a tool.

Make learning convenient and accessible

Erin: Not a task, a tool. I love that. So, we’ve talked a lot about how leaders can communicate the importance of learning, and the effect that has on learner engagement. What about techniques for learner engagement actually happening within the learning environment?

Nicole: One interesting example from Accenture comes to mind. Lately they’ve been doing more closed cohorts for specific regions within the Academy. Their reasoning was to make sure their employees found the learning accessible, useful, and comfortable. So in splitting into regions, the learners were able to share their thoughts in their own language. It’s a specific example of how identifying the root cause of that learner engagement or disengagement is key. From there, you can work on making the learning more comfortable for them.

Erin: I think that's a really great point. Thinking about different regions and localities as well, I know we talk a lot about the fact that our Academy is semi-synchronous. So the learners are completing the same Program in the same time frame, typically five to six weeks. But they're doing this on their own schedule, right, so no one has to log in in the middle of the night just because they’re in a different time zone.

Nicole: Yes. It's another huge factor in engagement and another way to make it more convenient and accessible.

Identify relevant learning takeaways to heighten learner engagement

Erin: And what about once the learners complete the Programs? Have you seen any efforts there to further cultivate this learning culture you’ve been talking about, and continue to drive or maintain engagement?

Nicole: One client, PVH, sends their own internal survey after someone completes a Program. It's not to measure NPS or anything like that––it's simply to see what the learner gained from that Program. The questions are reflection prompts, like: “This learning opportunity helped me solve a challenge I encounter in my role by…” or “I would like to share how this concept can benefit our team or organization by…” or “I directly applied something I learned in this Learner Journey by…”

Erin: That's so interesting because it really prompts them to think about, what am I going to do in my day-to-day work because of having taken this Program?

Nicole: Exactly. And I think it narrows down the takeaways from the Program for the learner in a very concise way and makes those ideas even more actionable. This is really meaningful for their learners, and PVH has gotten a lot of great feedback about these surveys from learners and also from their managers. Because they've been able to change a lot within their business because of their learning.

Erin: That’s great. You see how the learning is directly applicable, you see how the business is changing because of it, and then, as a result, there's this inevitable culture of learning that's instilled at the organization when those connections between learning and success are made this visible.

Making learning a central part of work

Nicole: I think overall, there are so many tactics that you can use to increase learner engagement or continue high engagement with your team. But ultimately, all of those boil down to communicating with your learners and making it clear why they're doing it, and that you know your goals for them in the Academy.

Erin: Making them feel like a partner in it, right? It’s not this "compliance, check-the-box" sort of training. Instead, the message is, this is really something that is a core part of my work. Something that's going to make me better at my job, something that is going to enhance my career possibilities, something that's going to make the business better. It's so much more motivating.

Nicole: I love that you say “partner.” Because you don't want your learner to feel like a passerby in the Academy. You want them to feel like they have that ownership over their own learning. Once they do, 99% of the time, their engagement soars.

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To learn more about Nomadic––including how we designed our learning experience to drive learner engagement and keep learners engaged over time––download your free copy of our report, Why the Future of Learning is Instructorless. In it, we explain how we designed our Academy to put learners at the center, foster lively debate, and make the learning immediately relevant to their daily work.

To explore what Nomadic can do for learning at your organization, you can also reach out and request a demo. We’d love to hear from you!

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