How to drive learner engagement with great UX

May 05, 2022 by Bryan Connor

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Everyone knows learner engagement is important, but discussions about this topic can quickly dissolve into a general “no one’s making time for learning” or “learners are unengaged.” Once we've diagnosed the problem, it's important to begin thinking about the specific steps that can be taken to actually get those learners more engaged.

Fortunately, there are many things that can be done to solve this issue, especially in the area of learning experience design.

Great design of the learning experience is one of the most effective ways to drive great learner engagement. In our cohort-based learning Academy, we've seen this in action! In this post, we’ll share some design and UX (user experience) decisions we’ve made at Nomadic and how we see them getting and keeping learners engaged.

Make something people want to use

A cumbersome user interface that's not intuitive, requires too many clicks to get to the actual learning, or simply doesn't inspire a learner's interest or capture their attention can have a negative impact on learner engagement. At Nomadic, we avoid this problem by centering the user experience on learning and getting the interface out of the way. One of our top priorities to encourage learning engagement is to get people to the learning they need as fast as possible. In addition to this, we are constantly iterating on how to make it easier for learners to discover the content they are most interested in, as well as keeping the platform supplied with new and engaging content.

Allow for more than one way to learn

Sometimes, issues in learner engagement can emerge from differences in learning style. While one learner may prefer to read about new concepts, another may learn best from video or audio. And while most online learning tends to feel passive (and often, a bit lonely), research shows that learners retain new concepts better when the learning is interactive and social.

Ensuring your platform features multiple ways to learn, including interactive and social elements, can help. In the case of Nomadic, for example, our Programs feature a mixture of video, text, and interactive elements, and throughout, include opportunities for robust social engagement, a cornerstone of cohort-based learning. Almost all of our core text content can be listened to as audio, and all of our videos have captions as well as written transcripts. Learners are free to skip around and engage in the order that works best for them: they can read through all the content and come back to the videos and interactive elements, or start with the discussions if they prefer.

Create a sense of belonging

Learners will be much more likely to engage with a learning platform when it feels like a space where they're welcomed, safe, and seen. There are several ways you can foster this sense of belonging. Our Programs, for example, create a separate digital space only available to the learners in a given cohort. Cohort sizes are limited and, wherever possible, we include elements that help learners get to know their fellow cohort members. Even small details like having people use their real names and including a photo in their profile can help.

All this comes together to create a sense of psychological safety and provide a unique environment for discussion and debate. This pays off in the meaty discussion topics that lead learners to share ideas and insights they’ve never had a chance to share before.

In this way, by promoting a sense of belonging, we not only increase learner engagement, but make the learning more likely to improve team dynamics and drive innovation, too.

Create time and social pressure in a semi-synchronous Program

This is a key question in digital learning: how do you get the flexibility of asynchronous digital learning while maintaining the engagement levels of synchronous classroom learning?

We've found that approaching digital learning in a semi-synchronous mode works best. What does this mean? In Nomadic, learners engage with our content in a self-directed fashion, in the flow of their own work. But our Programs are time-bound, with a start and end date for each learning cohort (typically 5–6 weeks). So even though every learner is moving through the Program at their own pace, they’re doing so within the same rough timeframe as their fellow cohort members.

This semi-synchronous setup gives learners flexibility in when and how to participate, but still creates some time pressure that helps drive engagement. This offers the great learner engagement fostered by the social "pressure" of the classroom without the Zoom fatigue and scheduling hassles that can stem from trying to replicate the classroom environment with live online learning.

Finally, our Academy also adds some social encouragement and light competition into the mix with weekly leaderboard updates, a comparison of learners' completion percentages to their overall cohort's, and notifications when peers start finishing ahead of schedule.

Ask learners what they think

A one-way transfer of knowledge to learners leaves little room for deep engagement. Learners should be empowered in the process, rather than feeling like they're just along for the learning ride. One way to do this is to make sure you're consistently asking for feedback.

This feedback process can be built into the learning experience itself. Our polls and discussions, for example, reinforce learning while also capturing the pulse of learners in a unique way. The learning environment itself becomes a new channel to share ideas, opinions, and insights (often with a unique mix of people from all levels of an organization). This offers a direct incentive for strong engagement: learners know they're being heard.

Learner engagement is a complex formula

Learner engagement is like lightning in a bottle when you can capture it, driving incredible discussions, progress, learning, and innovation. Getting there requires a complex mixture of factors that goes well beyond UX. But designing a top-notch learner experience creates a solid foundation on which learner engagement can begin to thrive.


To learn more about Nomadic's semi-synchronous cohort-based learning, 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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