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What Is Learner Engagement (+ Strategies to Boost It in 2024)

Whether you're a teacher or a corporate trainer, learner engagement is crucial to learner motivation in the classroom or organization.

You want your students to feel invested in their training, but it's a challenge to maximize learner engagement in the age of information and technology.

Too much sensory overload is competing for their attention, and focus is essential to learning engagement.

Your ability to shut out all the noise largely depends on increasing each learner's investment in the shared learning goal of your business or classroom.

So, how do you ramp up student engagement and improve the learning experience for everyone?

Of course, we're going to tell you!

What is Learner Engagement?

Engaged learners make a full personal investment in the learning program or the course material, and they take pride in understanding and applying what they've learned.

They do this not just to get a promotion or a pay raise but because they feel personally aligned with the goals of their employer. Their personal priorities overlap with those of their teachers.

Maximizing learner engagement is about getting all your students actively involved and invested in the online training. Every member must be fully engaged for that to happen; a single outlier can undermine everyone's results.

The goal is to create an environment friendly to full immersion, interaction, cooperation, and consensus among participants and their trainers.

The best results come from employees who feel valued and satisfied in their work environment โ€” and even more so during and after the course.

They love what they do and see the company's overall well-being and success as integral to their own.

This is only possible, though, when employers and instructional designers (IDs) value each learner's success and well-being as much as the company's.

The investment goes both ways, or it goes downhill.

Types of Learner Engagement

No discussion of learner engagement is complete without addressing all six specific types: cognitive, emotional, behavioral, social, physical, and cultural.

Your course design and teaching style may cater more to some learning styles than others, but nurturing all types of personal engagement will yield the best results.

1. Cognitive

Cognitive learner engagement has to do with each student's level of interest in or curiosity about the course topics.

The trainer should present the training materials in a way that addresses a need all your learners are aware they have โ€” and that offers enough of an intellectual challenge to make it interesting.

The structure of the course should also give each student the freedom to explore and make sense of the learning content in their own way.

2. Emotional

Sustained interest and mental focus are great, but if your students don't feel an emotional response to the subject matter, or if their feelings are negative, your training won't have the desired results.

One way to increase emotional engagement is to create a sense of community in the training group; give learners a reason to feel invested in everyone's success, as well as their own. And let them see the progress they're making.

3. Behavioral

Behavioral engagement has to do with a learner's engagement in a particular task, the effort they put into completing that task, and their ability to follow instructions.

All three are critical to long-term immersion in the course, as well as to each learner's successful completion of it. Each learner's behavioral engagement will impact their knowledge retention, motivation, and mastery of new skills.

4. Social

Social learner engagement has to do with how your learners interact with each other, the trainers, and the course content.

Social media channels, task management tools like Trello and Asana, and chat apps like Slack make it easier than ever for work teams to collaborate, ask questions, and get feedback from other team members.

Add gamification elements for some friendly competition, and you can boost social engagement and maximize your training's effectiveness.

5. Physical

Physical learner engagement is about your learners' kinetic activity โ€” exercise, stretching, or other training-related movements.

Granted, this is easier to do in an in-person classroom setting, but it's also possible with a virtual classroom, thanks to technology like virtual reality (VR) simulations.

Just as with handwriting practice for memorization, the more you involve the body in the training, the more likely your teaching is to take root.

6. Cultural

Cultural learner engagement has to do with the learning and development (L&D) culture within your organization and how well your training reflects that culture.

Teaching and course design should foster an increase in communication, support, and cooperation among your learners.

The learning activity should create or strengthen a culture that supports every member by reinforcing company values and rewarding constructive feedback.

Learner Engagement Strategies

Now that you know what types of engagement to look for and cultivate in your students, let's move on to the "how."

To help you reach your training goals, we've identified the nine most effective strategies for maximizing learner engagement.

(Pro Tip: Check out our awesome post about the learning process!)

1. Make learning goals crystal clear.

Essential to any effective training program is a real understanding of the learning objectives and goals of your learners โ€” and how those relate to the broader goals of your organization.

To start, you may want to think about conducting a training needs analysis to identify skill gaps.

Also, explain to your learners how the training is going to be delivered. Will it be strictly online learning? Or will you utilize blended learning โ€” a combination of in-person instruction and online training?

Explicitly stating learning goals will set the tone for the learning objective of the training and give you a head start in engaging learners.

2. Convenient learning is key.

The key to online learning is to provide easy access to course materials for the online learner. Structure eLearning content in such a way that facilitates mobile learning.

One of the best learning strategies is to focus on bite-sized chunks of learning materials known as microlearning. These short, easily digestible training sessions elevate the learner's engagement level and is one of your best learning resources.

The more convenient it is to access and use the course, the more likely your students are to work on it regularly and make steady progress.

3. Create creative course content.

Text-heavy presentations and long explainer videos result in bored students โ€” the exact opposite of active learners.

Use an instructional designer (ID) to create scenario-based training content activities.

The more creative, relatable, and high-stakes the instructional design, the more likely your students will participate as engaged learners.

4. Reward learner engagement.

Before you decide on the best rewards to use for employee engagement, find out what motivates and inspires your employees to better themselves.

Gamification elements like badges, progress bars, and leaderboards get learners engaged in friendly competition. Supervisors can also share learner success stories to call attention to high achievers.

[Editor's Note: Don't miss our list of awesome gamification techniques, and our ultimate guides to employee gamification and gamification design to jazz up your corporate training!]

5. Be open to feedback from your learners.

Managers and instructional designers alike can encourage feedback on course material by conducting group discussions or offering informal spaces for learners to ask questions and voice their opinions.

Leaders can be proactive in getting peer feedback through interviews, focus group discussions, surveys, and even friendly conversations with employees.

6. Use interactive elements.

Asynchronous courses can use interactive elements like quizzes, videos, and drag-and-drop activities. Synchronous online courses (like webinars) can use polling, annotation tools, shared whiteboards, and virtual breakout rooms.

The goal is to get your learners to act on the course material rather than passively watch and listen.

7. Use a learning management system (LMS).

A quality online learning management system (LMS) makes the course more convenient for everyone, tracks student progress, provides trainers with valuable data, and enables trainers to quickly create and modify eLearning course content.

It can also incorporate gamification tools โ€” like badges, progress bars, and leaderboards โ€” to incentivize engagement.

8. Offer real-life rewards in corporate training.

Students in a corporate training course are motivated by rewards that add real value to their everyday work life:

  • Certifications
  • Promotions
  • Job expansions
  • Paid time off (PTO)
  • Performance bonuses

Rewards can also be more employee-specific. Some employees, for example, are motivated by the chance to apply their new skills in a leadership role.

9. Utilize on-the-job training.

Corporate learners want to see how the course material will help them do better at their jobs and advance their careers.

On-the-job training can include simulations, case studies, and scenario-based activities with specific workday challenges they're likely to face.

Job shadowing can be particularly motivating for employees interested in the jobs they're shadowing.

How To Measure Learner Engagement

Once you've designed and implemented a course for your employees, knowing how to measure learner engagement from beginning to end gives you the data you need to make improvements, refining the course for future learners.

With that in mind, we've identified eight ways to measure engagement and get the fullest possible picture of your program's success.

1. Measure sign-up rates.

Sign-up rates give you your first metric for engagement, telling you what percentage of your workforce signs up for the training, how many reminders are needed, and which promotional messages get the best response.

Quick sign-ups indicate strong interest, which is a promising indicator of early engagement.

2. Measure dropout & completion rates.

Dropout and completion rates provide the following data:

  • How many learners dropped out or failed to complete the course;
  • How many learners finished the course and completed every task;

While the numbers can't tell you why an employee didn't finish, it gives you a general picture of how well your course kept learners engaged.

3. Monitor monthly and weekly active users.

Your LMS system should provide a dashboard overview of your weekly and monthly active users (WAU / MAU).

The number of monthly active users (MAU) gives you a clearer picture of engagement since full engagement with a course for months at a time is more challenging than sticking with it for a few weeks.

4. Monitor "have to" vs. "want to."

This is where intrinsic and extrinsic motivation comes in. Extrinsic motivation is about external rewards like bonuses, promotions, and paid time off.

Intrinsic motivation is internal; employees who are motivated to improve their skills and see their employer's goals as connected to their own are more engaged and more likely to undertake voluntary training.

5. Measure the time learners spend learning.

Your LMS should also provide data on how much work time each employee spends learning the course.

A leaderboard highlighting the top learners of the week/month/year, based on the time spent learning โ€” along with a gauge that tracks and displays each learner's time spent on the course โ€” can boost motivation and engagement.

6. Monitor community chats.

Keeping communication channels open should include communication between learners, using a chatroom or forum, either as part of the LMS or using collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams.

Both offer analytical insights such as the number of direct messages sent and the number of likes and comments given by each user.

An engaged learner is more likely to ask questions and participate in discussions.

7. Go old school with surveys.

If you want to know what your employees think of a particular course, an old-school survey is a great way to find out.

Whether you're asking them to rate different aspects of the course or provide written feedback, their answers reflect their engagement.

It also provides information that can help you make improvements for future learners.

8. Measure implementation of new skills.

Once the course is over and done with, data that proves your employees are applying what they've learned and making measurable improvements in their job performance is one of the best indicators of learner engagement.

The best ways to gauge this are through self-assessment questionnaires and by assessing and comparing key performance indicators (KPIs).

What Will You Do to Improve Learner Engagement?

Whether you're teaching adult learners seeking higher education or continuing education, or training new or existing employees in a corporate setting, there are many ways you can increase learner engagement.

You now have a better understanding of the best learning strategies for building and measuring your learners' engagement.

Now boost engagement and maximize your virtual training's short- and long-term effectiveness for everyone involved.

Sarah Lentz is a certified freelance writer and published author who blogs about health and beauty for women in their 40s and up. She also enjoys helping clients turn their ideas into ghostwritten books and blog posts.