Top tips for engaging the modern learner

Steve Wainwright gives the community tips on that all important topic of learner engagement.

A recent Towards Maturity report found that, whilst elearning is almost ubiquitous – used in 88% of organisations – the failure rate (60%) is shockingly high. The majority of learning and development (L&D) professionals believe elearning has a central place in the future of workplace learning – and for a good reason.

An established elearning programme can narrow the skills gap, lead to better employee retention, and increase productivity. 

With so many employees accessing some form of digital content for mandatory learning, it’s time to ensure they can access the highest quality digital resources. Delivering great content is still a challenge for many L&D teams, with many failing to meet learner needs. 

According to the study, 46% of learners believe generic online learning is not sufficiently tailored to their needs. Learners want content that is relevant and timely. They want recommendations of how to apply their learning, and technologies that allow them to network and learn together.

Support people and processes

Creating a ‘digital workplace’ that supports people and processes is crucial. Making learning mobile improves both the efficiency and effectiveness of the programme. Mobile learning means information is instantly accessible anytime, anywhere, and is easily digestible within limited timeframes. 

If content is king, curation is the queen, and without it, providing a modern learning experience is an uphill struggle.

When learning is enabled anywhere, for example on a smartphone, tablet or laptop, employees can easily pick up where they left off, wherever they are. By personalising the experience and offering relevant recommendations and social feedback within the content experience, learning is instantly more appealing and rewarding. 

Employees feel supported and more willing to fulfil their learning requirements whenever they can.

Take a top-down approach

Feedback is an important part of learning, and businesses need to consider how they are recognising employee achievement. With 45% of learners motivated by the need to gain professional certification, and one in four reporting their primary motivation for learning at work is to keep up with continuous professional development, it is important to ensure that they have the opportunity to succeed. 

This requires senior leadership buy-in to the learning programme, as well as regular opportunities to highlight learner success within the organisation.   

High performing organisations recognise the value of good communication and use a variety of channels to ensure that staff know what is available. They also use a promotional campaign approach to direct people to a particular topic area and include managers and all stakeholders in any learner communications. 

Skillsoft and Towards Maturity found that 95% of the best performing organisations provide learning initiatives with a specific identity and brand, and 72% involve top managers to promote learning. This is a hurdle that low-performing programmes fail to overcome. 

CEO sponsorship of learning is key for success – promotion from the top down engages employees with the organisation, leading to better engagement, higher retention and improved bottom line.

Social learning

Learners enjoy the inclusion of game-based elements to encourage participation and competition. The social element drives engagement and collaboration. 52% of Top Deck (the top decile for the Towards Maturity Index) organisations use game-based techniques such as leader boards, levels and scores.

This can be further enhanced with social tools, such as Yammer, which can foster public notes and discussions. This can help promote specific assets, help employees follow colleagues of interest and lets learners view the most up-to-date news feeds.

When all employees are involved, individual learners feel part of the wider organisation and are more inclined to engage with the programme.   

Additionally, learners are more likely to value and contribute to conversations with their peers, rather than L&D professionals. According to the study, only 4% of learners report that it’s the opinion of an L&D team member (including their trainer or tutor) that will most likely encourage them to learn online.

L&D professionals need to make sure that their learners are talking about a great learning experience and sharing useful, relevant content with their peers.  

Curation – focusing on the learner experience

Ultimately, it is the learner, not the L&D professional, that needs to find the elearning programme as engaging as possible. Many a gargantuan elearning system has failed because learners simply could not find the content to fulfil their needs. If content is king, curation is the queen, and without it, providing a modern learning experience is an uphill struggle.

With a plethora of tools available online – often at no cost – few organisations are investing much time in content curation. According to the study, on average just 13% are using content curation or social bookmarking tools, compared to 51% of the Top Deck.

Having a content curation strategy in place helps learners make sense of the resources available to them. This is an important focus area. Curation is becoming increasingly important to help learners search for, share and manage the wealth of content they find in a timely manner.

Looking ahead

Recognising the skills needed is the first step to developing a strong learning programme, and we are likely to see positive changes in the near future.  Across the sample, more than 90% of organisations have set these skills as a priority. 

Focusing on the real needs of learners, helping them feel more comfortable and better supporting them will lead to an improved L&D culture, better engagement, and more successful elearning programmes.


About the author

Steve Wainwright is MD EMEA at Skillsoft


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