eLearning can be inspirational — a reward in and of itself. It can also feel like drudgery. How can you strengthen engagement and ensure employees see it as a valuable investment of time? By using instructional design strategies to create training that is appealing, job-enhancing and approachable.

Three strategies in particular naturally encourage and engage employees, positioning eLearning programs as relevant, career-enhancing tools:

1. Use Real-life Scenarios

The beauty of eLearning is its scalability but also its specificity. Immersive, real-life scenario-based activities take it a step further. Learners read, listen to or watch a scenario that they might encounter on the job, and then branching enables them to explore the effects of their decisions.

With this approach, participants aren’t just listening to a lecture or reading slides; they are having an experience that aids in understanding, application and retention. Here are three tips to doing it effectively:

    • Make scenarios realistic and specific to the learner or group.
    • Enable learners to take control of the scenario, mirroring on-the-job decisions and actions.
    • Build the problem. Start slowly, with easy decisions, and then add progressively more difficult decisions.

Learners tend to enjoy scenario-based learning when it is realistic and relevant and uses visuals, jargon and even humor to set the scene. It’s particularly useful for teaching decision-making skills or practicing critical thinking, and it offers real-life experience for employees who are new to a job or the organization.

For example, one company needed to offer training that would reduce the number of errors that employees made while processing complex invoices. It could have offered a class that reviewed the steps of processing invoices or a workshop that talked about each of the errors the employees were making. Instead, the company gave employees the opportunity to “learn by doing” through real-life scenario-based eLearning.

Using actual invoices, the eLearning asked employees to handle everyday tasks and introduced situations where errors were common. When they succeeded or failed (in a “safe” environment), employees received immediate feedback on their performance so they could understand the consequences. They could then repeat scenarios and practice the correct steps to avoid making errors — skills that they could then apply on the job. Best of all, the company saw a reduction in errors immediately after employees completed the training.

2. Use Storytelling

Stories are compelling. They entertain, share knowledge, offer new ideas, challenge assumptions and motivate. As a learning tool, stories have universal appeal and resonate across all learner profiles by making a connection between the content and emotion.

Stories help learners understand the consequences of their actions and decisions. You can use storytelling in eLearning to drive change and shift attitudes, to simplify a complex subject, or to explain an abstract concept.

Here are a few tips for using storytelling in eLearning:

    • Use a context that is relatable to your learners.
    • Connect learners to the content in meaningful ways — for example, by giving the character the same title they have or making them live in the same area.
    • Add humor to the story.
    • Add videos, images, screen captures of emails, recorded dialogues of customer service interactions and other details to make your story richer and more realistic.

Use storytelling when you need to reinforce a mindset that is linked to success or efficiency. While reading about a character’s journey, learners can draw parallels to their own experience. These stories and their lessons stick with learners long after the training is over.

3. Embed Training Into Organizational Initiatives

eLearning, like other forms of training, must align with your organization’s overall priorities. Unfortunately, Brandon Hall research has found that only 36% of organizations’ learning strategies are aligned with the business. In other words, over 60% of organizations may offer training has no clear connection to strategic objectives.

For eLearning to be effective, leaders must take a good look at employee capabilities and determine which are essential to organizational success. Mapping those skills to specific objectives enables every learning and development tactic, including eLearning, to have significant impact.

Learners are motivated by eLearning that’s tied to the priorities that their manager or leader talks about. They can see the importance of training that builds skills that the organization is noticing and measuring, and eLearning engagement soars if employees view it as immediately useful and/or problem-solving.

Here are four tips to keep in mind:

    • Evaluate alignment on a yearly basis or when strategies change.
    • Consider culture and organizational values when creating eLearning.
    • Determine metrics for measuring results. Which data can you gather before and after eLearning?
    • Tie eLearning budgets to current priorities and imperatives.

The shift to a digital, knowledge-based economy demands an engaged workforce. Success is often based on intangible assets — skilled employees, strong leaders and knowledge — all pointing to the importance of impactful eLearning. These three eLearning strategies — real-life scenarios, storytelling and strategic alignment — help learners understand the relevance of their training, driving engagement. When used in conjunction with other learning activities, including coaching and mentoring, on-the-job instruction, apprenticeships and shadowing, and classroom sessions, eLearning can be both tailored and effective.