Learning leaders across every industry agree that launching a learning and development (L&D) program can be a monumental task. Aside from determining strategy, the administrative process to execute that strategy can feel like a mountain of work.

Modern learning programs must address the needs of today and anticipate the challenges of tomorrow. The disruption caused by COVID-19 is an excellent example. Early on in this work-from-home environment, many organizations established continuation plans to enable staff to work remotely, and L&D programs also had to make this transition. Gallup polls tracking employee engagement during this period saw a decrease, followed by an increase as people adapted to the new working conditions. Learning programs that were easily adapted to remote delivery likely benefitted from this increase in engagement.

Sadly, some L&D plans do not consider how they will engage the learner — but learning engagement should be at the forefront of every L&D professional’s mind when creating any learning initiative. Here are a few strategy ideas to consider to design an engaging learning initiative.

Remember the “WIIFM”

All learning is personal, and the motivation to engage in growing, changing and learning must be a personal decision. Explaining the “why” of learning is often required to influence learners to take that next step. Learners must be able to clearly see the “what’s in it for me” or (WIIFM) of the learning process, for every training session attended, eLearning course taken and assessment completed.

Broad, organization-wide learning goals such as safety measures or compliance training may not always experience the same enthusiasm as skills refinement or leadership development programs. In these instances, it may be necessary to boost learner engagement by thoroughly outlining the mutual benefits for the learner and the organization. These goals are usually intertwined, as the organization is comprised of individuals working to improve.

Setting Learning as a Priority

For learning programs to be valuable, the time and resources learners spend in training must be on an equal plane with their day-to-day responsibilities. Leaders at every level of the organization can play a role in communicating this importance. Touchpoints on learning can include company-wide memos and emails delivered from the C-suite, talking points covered during stand-up meetings, and one-on-one coaching sessions about an individual’s learning objectives.

Managers, mentors and learning leaders should have frequent conversations with learners about their learning plans and performance. These conversations can emphasize the importance of the program and gather relevant feedback. According to Gallup research, employees who have regular conversations with their manager in about their goals and successes are more engaged.

Embrace and Optimize Informal Learning

In the workplace, learning often occurs at the point of need, where in the course of employees’ normal job duties, there is an impasse. People find the answers they need in many ways: asking their peers or manager, consulting formal learning materials, or even conducting a quick web search. This process is often referred to as “learning in the flow of work,” and it is highly personal to the learner. That moment of analysis, search, comprehension and adaptation is the definition of learning and development.

Learning leaders can streamline this process by providing a place where learners can quickly find the answers and learning content they need. A solution could include offering a library of curated content to learners based on their role, location, experience level or learning path. The next step is making this library searchable to enable employees to find content quickly before their engagement level is overtaken by frustration or distraction. Self-directed learning is a hallmark of the engaged learner, and it often produces champions for the content they find valuable. Content that comes recommended by a peer stands a better chance of being seen.

Creating Champions of Learning

Peer learning is a typical source of on-the-job training for many people entering a new role, especially during the onboarding phase. More experienced employees may be the best people to supplement learning content that speaks directly to the role. Stepping beyond a top-down, prescriptive learning model can induce anxiety for some learning leaders; however, they should view this approach as empowering learners rather than losing control. Of course, allowing users to suggest, source, create and share their own learning content is not without its risks, so greater oversight maybe necessary to ensure quality.

Learning content that’s sourced, recommended or created by the learner has the potential to create champions of learning, as they have become invested in the process on a personal level. Creating subgroups of learners based on their role, location, experience or level can help spread this enthusiasm for learning and engagement. These subgroups could serve as a discussion group for a cohort of people going through the same learning track, such as a leadership development program. Subgroups could also center on developing and refining best practices for a specific job function.

Leveraging the wealth of knowledge that may already exist in your organization is a low-cost option. Staff members with long tenures may be an asset to new employees during onboarding as they learn how to navigate their new company, industry or even job role. Some highly experienced workers may also be interested in mentoring programs to impart their wisdom to developing staff members.

Keep Strategy in Mind

Just as the workplace is constantly evolving, so should strategies for keeping learners engaged. Without proper adjustments, L&D programs can become stale and lose their value in the eyes of the learner. The sudden shift to working from home in many industries has caused organizations to pivot, and learning programs also need to be flexible — yet unwavering. Meeting and exceeding learning goals should always be a priority.