Leaders of the learning function have seven core responsibilities, all of which are necessary to create a great training organization. But if you build it, will they come? A training organization can have perfect strategic alignment with organizational goals, flawlessly integrate learning technology and expertly manage resources to plan training programs, but unless learners are engaged, you will not meet your training goals.

While there is no one-size fits all approach for successful engagement, there are a number of strategies that can put your learning and development (L&D) department on track for success in captivating the learners participating in your formal training programs. Here’s a roadmap to LEARN how to engage your audience in L&D programs:

    • Learning culture
    • Engaging content
    • Accessible opportunities
    • Reinforcement plan
    • Needs-focused approach

To better understand what each of these elements means, let’s dive in a little deeper.

1. Learning Culture

If you choose one strategy to go all in on, this one should be it. Intentionally articulating, creating and supporting a learning culture lays the foundation for continuous employee engagement in all forms of L&D, whether on the job, social or formal. Furthermore, research by Bersin, suggests that a strong learning culture significantly increases business impact, so the benefits go well beyond filling the (virtual) classroom.

What does a learning culture include? First and foremost, having buy-in and support from all levels of leadership is key. Beyond buy-in, there are a number of ways to build continuous learning into the core of organizational culture. Here are a few high-impact strategies to start with:

Formalize Learning

Develop learning paths, create training or development plans, or set learning goals to create structure around what learning looks like across the company and for each individual.

Celebrate Learning

Reward employees who learn new skills or excel in delivering results on stretch projects, and give kudos to internal teachers and mentors who encourage others to grow.

Hire for Fit

Not every employee needs to be a self-proclaimed lifelong learner, but seek curious candidates with a growth mindset who strive to continuously improve.

2. Engaging Content

This one feels obvious — but what does “engaging content” mean? Start with creativity, make the program interactive and ensure it clearly communicates key concepts.

Creative and interactive learning experiences can be fun — including games, art, role-play, audience polls, storytelling, etc. — but it is critical that they still meet the learning objectives. Start by telling learners what they will learn. Then, teach it to them; then, tell them what they just learned. Don’t forget to check for understanding along the way.

3. Accessible Opportunities

Learning opportunities should be easily accessible to reduce any friction or potential barriers to entry at the outset. Whether it is centralized in a learning management system (LMS), housed on a company calendar or intranet, or saved in a shared folder, all employees should know where and how to access training.

Beyond the logistics, the content itself should be delivered in a way that is accessible to all. There are a number of adult learning theories that you can leverage to create a variety of learning approaches to ensure there’s something for everyone. Likewise, learners have different preferences for engaging with content, so offering a variety of methods is key. For example, some learners prefer virtual training to in-person classrooms, and some prefer speaking in front of the group to participating in a chat group.

4. Reinforcement Plan

Be sure the L&D program has a plan for reinforcing the knowledge or skills learned beyond the classroom. For example, end the session with a reflection exercise or a “live your learning” plan to help learners articulate how they plan to use what they learned on the job in the next week.

Peer training cohorts can also be an effective way to extend learning after a program concludes. Facilitators can assign small groups and provide conversation guides to encourage learners to continue the conversation weeks or months beyond the classroom. Continued conversation and peer accountability further strengthen the lessons learned in a formal setting.

5. Needs-focused Approach

While this strategy is at the end of the list, L&D efforts should begin with this approach. First and foremost, understand the skills and needs of your learners, as well as the organizational goals, to ensure alignment across both.

Consider short-term needs and long term trends for upskilling employees. It’s great to focus on manager training this year to support team members during a period of rapid organizational growth, but don’t forget to confer with the leadership team on the future skills needed for ever-changing organizational priorities.

These five strategies offer a framework for engaging employees across formal learning programs, but each company is different, and successful engagement strategies can change over time with a growing workforce or a shift in organizational needs. Learner engagement is a continuous journey, so remember to stay flexible and listen to your learners. Request feedback to evaluate programs, and adjust to meet learners’ needs accordingly.