Key strategies for learner engagement

Apr 15, 2022 by Erin Becker

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How do I get my learners engaged? This is one of the main questions we hear from prospective clients. Too often, learning initiatives aren’t as effective as they could be due to low engagement, low completion rates, and the learning simply not being a priority. The Covid-19 pandemic, transition to hybrid and remote work, and heightened levels of burnout have only exacerbated these concerns. With so much on learners’ plates, how can leaders drive home the point that learning is not only a priority––it’s an absolutely fundamental part of our work?

To get some ideas for learner engagement strategies and techniques, I sat down with Haley Dorn, one of our client success managers here at Nomadic. Haley was full of great tips for getting learners engaged, including the key insight that no learner engagement plan can be one-size-fits-all.

I really loved our conversation, and I hope you enjoy it too!

Learner engagement: not one-size-fits-all

Erin: Many times, I know our clients really believe learning is and should be a priority. But putting that into practice can be a big challenge. So one of the questions that we hear all the time is: how do we make time for learning? And more specifically, how do we make sure that our learners are engaged, in the face of burnout, people leaving the workforce, and the simple fact that those who remain are really stretched thin?

Haley: Absolutely. I will say that the approach to getting learners engaged is not one-size-fits-all for every single organization. But I think that's also a good thing, because organizations can use the internal communication channels and resources they already have, and adapt the way they’re approaching this to their own realities.

Erin: How do you help clients navigate that process and figure out what works?

Haley: Typically, I ask clients what sort of internal communication channels they have, things like that. I also ask them to define what success in learner engagement looks like for them.

Strategies for learner engagement

Erin: So once you understand those goals, then you dive into those more specific strategies.

Haley: Right. For example, a client may hold internal discussions, maybe at the beginning of a Program, maybe at the middle or the end. This means learners are accountable to be able to participate in these discussions, and it typically drives higher engagement due to that social accountability. I’ve also seen success with what clients call an Academy Advocate or Champion. This is someone that they've seen be highly engaged, who can help to project manage initiatives to and get other learners more engaged in the Academy.

Erin: That’s a great idea.

Haley: It works really well, and is a nice recognition for that engaged learner, or group of engaged learners. Another way I’ve seen clients be successful in their approach to engaging learners is holding “teach backs” at the end of a Program. So this client puts their learners into groups to teach the others a concept from the Program that resonated with them and also make sure to apply it to their actual work and workplace. This drives home the message that the learning is relevant, because it’s being applied to a workplace goal, challenge, or objective. And it’s great for the learners, because, as we all know, in order to teach a topic, you really have to know it like the back of your hand.

Learner engagement and cohort-based learning

Erin: What I’m hearing is that the social aspect of learning can really make it much more engaging. That sense of accountability, that sense of engagement with your peers. It’s interesting, because these are some of the same reasons we designed our learning to be based around cohorts, after seeing that cohort-based learning really helped capture learners’ attention and keeping them engaged.

Haley: The social aspect is such an encouraging factor for learners. Having a small group discussion with your cohort can really enforce that accountability. No one wants to be the one who doesn’t know what anyone else is talking about! It can also encourage some really insightful brainstorming sessions that may not have otherwise happen, whether within the Academy or in separate live discussions that clients may hold.

Erin: And as we’ve seen, all that learner engagement generates some really powerful data, too.

Haley: Definitely. On the administrators’ dashboard, you can pull the comments report, which lists every single comment learners in your organization have made within the Academy. This means administrators discover ideas, insights, and patterns from their employees that may not have otherwise come out if people hadn’t been so engaged in the learning.

Erin: Have you seen anything particularly surprising in that data?

Haley: I’ve actually seen a few clients where they have all these great employees, but maybe one isn't as comfortable participating in live or in-person meetings. But they're finding that this social online community feels comfortable for sharing ideas. That can be an amazing way for the administrator or the leader to discover new ideas, new insights.

Erin: I love that. There’s an equity aspect to that, really: you can identify emerging leaders or talent, people who may not speak up and live meetings, or maybe people whose first language isn't English, who might need that extra second to gather their thoughts.

Haley: Exactly. And it gives them the opportunity to offer recognition to employees they may not have otherwise offered recognition to.

Communications that drive learner engagement

Erin: Returning to the topic of communication around the learning, and how that drives engagement, I was wondering if you had any examples where that communication has been really successful.

Haley: We like to try and emphasize that communication can be really important throughout, not just at the beginning of the learning. It's great to get everybody all excited at the beginning with rollout communications, but I think it's so important to continue those communications afterward and throughout. Soliciting feedback from your employees, I think, is an incredibly important part of communication as well. Getting a sense of what they liked about the Academy, what they thought could be improved.

Erin: What creative communication strategies have you seen for driving learner engagement?

Haley: One example was an actual welcome video from leaders and stakeholders. A client put together a short video featuring a bunch of different leaders and stakeholders throughout the company, all sharing little snippets of why they thought the Academy was important and why they were excited about it. In this case, the leaders had also gone through the Program. It really shows, okay, not only is a leader telling us why this is important, they've actually gone ahead and done it. So they clearly think there's value in this if they have participated in the programs.

Learning incentives

Erin: Going beyond learning communications, let’s talk about incentives for a moment. What incentives for learners have you seen be effective?

Haley: Nonmonetary incentives that seem to work really well are awards and recognition. That can be a physical award, it can be a title. I have one client who actually holds what they call a graduation ceremony. They offer different titles to their employees, based on their own definitions of success that they came up with. That can be a really amazing way to offer recognition. For the employees who have participated, it essentially thanks them for participating, rewards them, and also offers public recognition. It's also a way for employees to be able to add that type of recognition to their LinkedIn or to their resume.

Erin: They’re putting an emphasis on learning, showing they really value it.

Haley: Yes. That can really help make an employee feel like: yes, I put all this work into the learning, I made time for it, maybe it wasn't so easy, but my employer sees me and recognizes me for that. So I think it can be incredibly valuable.

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To learn more about Nomadic's semi-synchronous cohort-based learning experience, 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 (rather than an instructor), to foster lively debate, and to make the learning immediately relevant to cohort members' daily work.

Interested to discover more about what Nomadic’s cohort-based Academy can do for your organization? Learn about our approach, or get in touch to request a demo.

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