Four creative methods for engagement in training

Encouraging training among non-profit professionals is crucial to a thriving organisation says Susan Tomlinson-Schmidt, so long as you have the tools and methodology for success.

Training is an essential element of any worthwhile profession. It’s the key ingredient for professional and personal growth, which is necessary for job satisfaction, industry training improvement, and leadership development at your organisation. 

As someone in a leadership position yourself, it’s your responsibility to encourage staff and direct reports to engage in available training opportunities – which can sometimes require creativity on your part. 

Educational courses are one of the most often sought-after and impactful professional development opportunities that people can engage with, so it’s vital that you keep your audience engaged even once they’ve started coursework. Here are our four tips for success.

  1. Leverage several media strategies. 
  2. Keep learning modules short. 
  3. Provide relevant examples for educational concepts. 
  4. Communicate the purpose of knowledge checks. 

Although we’re specifically discussing online educational opportunities in this guide, the ideas behind these concepts speak to other training opportunities you provide as well.

Leverage several media strategies 

Online learning has become one of the most accessible professional development opportunities that individuals can take advantage of. When individuals want to learn a new skill, they can gain all of the materials they need directly from their computer screens at home. 

Keep your learning modules brief so that you can appeal to the shortened attention span of your audience and to promote a self-paced learning environment. 

However, everyone has so much activity on virtual platforms nowadays that it can also be incredibly easy to get distracted with emails, unpaid bills, the latest news, or other online content. 

The Economic Times states that the increased use of screen time shortens the average attention span from 12 minutes to five minutes. This article also discusses the term ‘popcorn brain’ which describes how people have grown accustomed to the fast-paced stream of information on the internet, making it challenging to adapt to the slower pace of real life. 

Leverage several forms of media such as video, text, images, audio, and more during training opportunities to maintain learners’ attention amidst the distractions. Consider the purpose of each of these media strategies and consider how each can be used in your training course.

  • Video. Video has several advantages for the online learning world. First, it creates a sense of presence, providing a human element without which the learner would feel a sense of isolation. It also allows you to demonstrate processes, provide real-world examples, and present distinctive perspectives for content. 
  • Text. Text is the most precise way to convey your message and information to the learner. However, if used too much, it can become tedious to read, so be sure to use text alongside other media elements in your online course. 
  • Images. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. You can use pictures and graphics to visually communicate various concepts, examples, and processes. They can also be used to support text or audio information. 
  • Audio. Oral presentations have historically been prevalent in the learning process and audio recordings lean into the idea that humans can absorb a lot of information by listening. However, be careful not to leverage audio without visuals for too-long and risking learners getting distracted with their email, Google, social media, and other online platforms. 

Be sure to invest in a learning management system (LMS) that supports all of these media types and splits the course work into digestible chunks. 

This guide explains how ‘diverse and engaging material’ is one of the key features of an effective LMS platform. It also discusses the importance of peer communication features and self-paced learning, the latter of which supports the idea of short learning modules.

Keep learning modules short

The various materials and multimedia elements that you use to comprise your course are usually presented through online learning modules, logically structured collections of course content similar to chapters of a book.


Keep your learning modules brief so that you can appeal to the shortened attention span of your audience and to promote a self-paced learning environment. 

Brief learning modules provide a regular sense of accomplishment that drives them to continue the learning process. It also provides more frequent opportunities that appeal to the ‘popcorn brain’ evolution of the human mind and the shorter attention span. 

Plus (if that weren’t enough), shorter modules allow learners to pause the learning process and complete other activities for their daily lives. 

Self-paced learning (also discussed in this resource as asynchronous learning) is important for course completion because, let’s face it, we’re all busy! Users will be more invested in their opportunities if they can decide when and how much they’ll be learning in each session.

Consider this example of well-designed course modules: 

  • Module 1: This is a two-minute video introduction to the course and is by-far the shortest module, simply providing context and an overview of what will be covered in the course.
  • Module 2: This module provides some foundational knowledge on the subject in a few slides, providing definitions, examples regarding those definitions, and interactive photos allowing the reader to gain new insights and context on those definitions. 
  • Module 3: The third module is designed to introduce a new element of the course subject. It starts with a short story that introduces a problem related to the overall subject, then provides an interaction portion for the learner to address the problem on their own. The next screen explains the potential solutions and why they’re correct or incorrect through a series of 30-second videos. 
  • Module 4: The last module provides a quiz that the learners can take to review how much they’ve learnt. Then, they’re given the option to download an audio file of a podcast that reviews the course concepts in-depth, serving as a review of the key concepts for learners. 

The combination of short modules and engaging media will hold the attention of your learners and invite them to get the most out of the course as possible.

Provide relevant examples for educational concepts

When you design a course for your learners, it’s not always obvious how the concept will apply to specific jobs and everyday duties. One way you can immediately help learners apply their knowledge is with relevant and applicable examples of the educational concepts discussed. 

When people learn in everyday life, it’s through the experiences and circumstances that they go through, like how kids learn not to touch a hot stove by burning their hands. When examples are included in online training opportunities, it uses this same mindset to explain concepts naturally.

Not-so-ironically, the best way to explain the importance of examples is through an example. 

Let’s say you’re taking a nonprofit course about communication with potential supporters. The course explains: ‘You-attitude is the best way to relate with your audience. Leverage you-attitude to put your supporters in the driver seat, always tracing mission impacts back to the actions of your supporters.’

While it’s immediately obvious that you-attitude is important and it helps messages resonate with the right audience, you don’t get a lot of information about what this concept actually looks like in action. For that, you’ll need to see an example. 

Bloomerang’s annual report guide provides great examples that might help hammer this concept home much better. They explain how you-attitude can make a difference using these two sentences: 

Thanks to your generous support, we were able to provide 500 bowls of food to cats in need.


Your generous support fed 500 cats in need like Fluffy. We couldn’t do that without you! 

You can see that the second example places the result (fed 500 cats in need like fluffy) as a direct impact of the donor’s action (your generous support). The concept about you-attitude kind of makes sense when it’s explained generally, but it becomes much clearer and actionable when an example is provided. 

Providing an example that is relevant to the learner’s potential job or expertise ensures the concept is fully understood and the application of it immediately recognisable. 

Communicate the purpose of knowledge checks

In school, everyone learns the techniques and strategies to score highly on tests and quizzes. While some students simply study by reviewing class materials (by far the most valuable strategy), others will pick up on tricks to game the system, like always choosing C when you don’t know the answer or simply memorising rather than understanding information.

These little tips and tricks don’t really help you absorb the materials, but do help you achieve the grade you want. Getting the highest grade possible is not the point of knowledge checks. 

As the name suggests, the point of knowledge checks is to check how much you’ve learnt. Communicating and reiterating this point to your learners reminds them that they are taking this course to learn, not to achieve a specific grade. 

Incorporate tests and quizzes into your training materials, reiterating the importance of honesty for these opportunities by explaining the purpose of the checks directly, providing multiple tries, etc. This encourages learners who might not understand a concept to own up to their knowledge gaps. From there, you’ll see two major benefits: 

  • First, the learner can return to the concept they missed and reinforce their knowledge, ultimately learning more. 
  • Second, if you maintain orderly data from knowledge checks, you can leverage this information to improve your course. If everyone misses the same question, this implies that you’re not covering it in-depth enough in the course materials. Use the data you collect to make your course even better. 

Knowledge checks are not designed to get people into trouble or to show off how much someone knows. Instead, they’re tools to help learners decide what content to revisit or to help your organisation decide what you might need to adjust in your educational course content strategy. 

Wrapping up

One study shows that 74% of workers want additional training and professional development opportunities in order to achieve their full potential in the workplace. The drive to learn is there! It’s your job to provide these opportunities in an engaging format, generally through elearning courses. 

By offering a course designed by a trusted industry professional, you can gain important insights by examining how multimedia strategies, modules, examples, and knowledge checks are used to create engaging content. You can then use these concepts to engage your own audience with training materials.


About the author

Susan Tomlinson Schmidt is president of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance.


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