Core Components of Successful Digital Learning Engagement

If you build the learning, they will come, right? Well, as most veteran learning and development (L&D) professionals can tell you: not always.

Sometimes all you get is crickets. Why is that? Why does some of your best work get ignored by learners and — most importantly — what can you do about it?

How can you engage learners?

Engagement. It’s what keeps L&D up at night, but it also haunts the C-Suite. Data from LinkedIn shows that executives’ top priority in 2023 is “keeping employees motivated and engaged.” But how do you do that? Learners don’t always want to participate in the learning that’s put in front of them, even if that learning was lovingly crafted by a team of L&D experts.

Learning itself is a useful tool for boosting engagement at work. LinkedIn’s research suggests that, by simply engaging with learning, employees gain a sense of growth, advancement, and adaptability. Those who participated in workplace learning were more likely to feel as though they were achieving career goals and advancing in their current roles.

While learning can drive engagement at work, it requires learners to consume that content first. Jumping that hurdle, and simply getting learners to engage, can sometimes seem like the most difficult challenge.

The 4 pillars of learning engagement

In a session at ATD this past spring, former Litmos Chief Learning Officer Mike Martin addressed these concerns by laying out the four core components of successful learner engagement:

    1. Ramp up Marketing
      You may have the best learning program on the planet, but if no one knows about it, no one will take your modules. Get the word out. Martin suggests asking yourself if you have the right buzz and advocacy around your program. Do you have any at all?Your learning needs to reach the people it was designed to help. This may mean getting line managers on board with your learning program, but it also may mean good, old-fashioned advertising: email campaigns, social media posts, flyers, videos, or anything else you can do to put your learning front and center.

      Make sure you create a compelling message for these marketing materials. Learners need to know what’s in it for them. They’re busy people; why should they take your learning?You may also need a champion, which leads to the next pillar of engagement.

    2. Get Commitment from Leadership
      Buy-in always starts at the top. Does leadership think the learning program is important? If a leader loves your program, great! That person is your champion. If they don’t like it, however, it’s up to you to convince them.Getting buy-in can be as simple as showing leaders your program and explaining why your learning program is tied to the business’s needs. It can also mean revisiting your learning content to make sure it’s aligned to your company’s organizational goals. If it’s not, it’s unlikely that leadership will throw their support behind your program.
    3. Simplify and Enhance the Experience
      Learning is supposed to make people’s lives easier, not the other way around. No one wants to go through the hassle of resetting forgotten passwords to log into an hour-long module that cuts into work time.It should be easy for your learners to access your learning. This means learners need to have time for learning, they need to be able to get in and out of the learning platform with no problem, and the learning shouldn’t get in the way of their responsibilities.

      You can do this by choosing a learning management system (LMS) that allows learners to easily log in and find the content they need, whether that’s from their mobile device or their work station. An LMS should also let you measure important metrics like engagement through a learning analytics dashboard, so you can see what’s working and what’s not.

    4. Make Learning Content Consumable
      If you’re creating long dry courses for your learners, they may not be taking them. They might not have time at work, and they may not be interested in giving up their valuable personal time for an hour-long course that isn’t directly tied to their job responsibilities.

Take a deep breath and be honest with yourself: do your learners actually have the time for your courses? What do the most vocal critics of your program say about it?  If they don’t like your learning, figure out why. Is it the length of the modules, the material, or the presentation of the material?

There are a number of things you can do to fix these issues:

    • Make learning shorter: Leverage micro and nano learning to create short, manageable chunks of learning that can be easily (and quickly) consumed.
    • Give them what they want: Learners appreciate learning that helps them achieve their own career goals. Research shows that empowering employees with career development tools and internal mobility options engages learners and expands workforce skills.
    • Mix it up: Do you only offer one kind of training? Adding learning in multiple modalities is a way to engage learners allows instructional designers to meet more learner needs by offering a wide range of delivery options.
    • Change your tone: Adopt an accessible tone in your learning modules. Overly formal learning might not reach everyone.

Engagement: L&D’s holy grail

You put a lot of work into the learning you build. You spend time creating programs, building modules, curating the off-the-shelf learning that meets organizational goals, and rolling out your program. You owe it to yourself to make sure that learning gets to the people you’re trying to help. After all, your learners need the information in your learning program — that’s why you built your program in the first place.