L&D leaders are constantly trying to figure out if there is a skeleton key to open the door to a 100-percent engagement rate. As a result, many industry discussions are concentrated on how to improve unimpressive to marginal engagement numbers. Any reasonable professional would question whether all this attention on learner engagement is warranted. The answer is actually multilayered, but it is definitely an unequivocal “yes.”

A fair amount of industry experts stand by the conclusion that highly engaged learners are more likely to transfer knowledge than their less engaged counterparts. This unwavering position is often defended by an abundance of qualitative research. If those statistics are accurate, there is a legitimate reason for concern if learner engagement levels are low in your organization. The good news is that there are solutions.

Improving learner engagement shouldn’t be viewed as a lofty challenge. Instead, those tasked with this responsibility should view it as an exciting opportunity; increasing learner engagement can deliver a huge return on investment. You can measure your success by the overall effectiveness of a learner program, determined by a complete assessment of learners’ attendance, performance and participation.

Contrary to what some L&D professionals may believe, the push for increasing engagement shouldn’t happen only during the delivery phase. The road to significant improvement also happens during the development and feedback phases. Note this information as a best practice, and then proceed with renewed focus. If your goal is to consistently increase learner engagement, you must add this emphasis to the checklist you create for the development and feedback phases.

Before launching the development of a learning program, understand that learner engagement must be a consistent theme throughout the core elements of the development process. Those core elements are design, technology, content and analysis. The first three elements are basically the genesis of developing a learning program. It doesn’t matter whether you use the ADDIE model or another methodology; the elements of design, technology and content are essential to creating a quality learning program. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the fourth element is as important as the first three.

The development and feedback phases are where you can systematically cultivate learner engagement, since decisions to promote learner engagement are made during these phases. Of course, the real work takes place during the decision-making process.

Decisions, decisions, decisions. To jumpstart this process, here are four ways to increase learner engagement.

Design Learning to Support the Subject Matter

It’s important to remember that an engaging learning experience doesn’t begin or end with the delivery phase. Fostering engagement should be a priority long before a learner attends a training session. Plans to promote engagement generally commence during the design phase. A best practice is to select engagement tools that pertain to the subject matter at hand. The selection should serve two distinct purposes: It should promote engagement among learners, and it should help them successfully transfer knowledge.

During the decision-making process, ask three specific questions about a proposed engagement tool:

  • Will it engage the learner?
  • Is it aligned to the subject matter?
  • Will it support knowledge transfer?

The answer to all three questions should be a resounding “yes.” If not, continue reviewing other engagement tools until that response can be applied to each question. This practice is simple and will help streamline the engagement tool review process.

There’s another, even easier way to support subject matter during the design phase: Don’t apply generic titles to learning programs. Something like “Customer Accounts: Part 4” isn’t likely to generate much excitement among learners. Even worse, the subject matter is totally ambiguous.

Again, the prevailing thought is that promoting engagement does not only occur during facilitation. The title “Customer Accounts: Part 4” does not offer any specific details about the learning program at all. A more informative title would be “Processing Refunds on Commercial Accounts.” Between these two choices, it’s easy to see that the second title has a direct correlation to the subject matter of the course and therefore is more engaging.

Use Technology Wisely

Most modern learners are accustomed to using some form of technology in their learning environments. Technology has a broad appeal, and you can use it to promote engagement. It is also a viable option in virtual and traditional classrooms as well as synchronous or asynchronous delivery platforms. Unfortunately, technology on its own does not guarantee that learners will be fully engaged. The fact is that it no longer has an automatic “wow” factor.

The reason for this change is largely due to how much technology is already intertwined into learners’ everyday work lives. Many are constantly inundated with technology. The most prominent onslaught is through communication. On a daily basis, workers have to manage text messages, emails and/or instant messages. This expanding exposure has impacted the learning environment.

To prevent technology tune-outs, it’s wise to carefully review how your learning programs use technology. There are several important considerations. First, try not to use technology just to keep learners busy. Busywork does not increase engagement. In fact, it can decrease engagement, because learners’ focus is on a task rather than active participation.

The learning experience should not be reduced to a series of back-to-back activities. Learners should be made to feel that their involvement is an important aspect of the program. For example, if the goal is for learners to apply what they learned about a new email system, you might use a simulation or video. Perhaps a hands-on exercise for simple tasks should be an option, not a requirement. These changes will give learners some personal input into how the learning is delivered to them. This level of involvement can also be part of a larger plan to increase engagement.

Develop Clear and Meaningful Content

Content is often the most celebrated and the most critiqued element of a learning program. One of the best ways to determine how content is perceived is to examine learner comments. Words like “confusing,” “inaccurate,” “unclear” and “repetitive” are often used when describing a learning session that did not meet expectations for engagement. There is generally a common thread that connects low engagement with an unsuccessful learning program. The connection is bad content.

An engaging learning experience is more apt to fail if learners are unable to easily filter the content. If they have to spend a lot of time trying to decipher the learning material, it is nearly impossible for any sustained engagement to take place. Since content plays such a significant role in the learning experience, it’s best to keep things simple.

Here are some friendly reminders for developing content:

  • Avoid using slang or trendy phrases from popular culture.
  • Use common words in descriptions.
  • Include specific terms for tasks and processes.

Developing clear and meaningful content is the initial building block for increasing learner engagement. Focusing on this process can net significant benefits. Solid content holds the ability to increase engagement by providing learners with a valuable resource during and after a learning session.

Thoroughly Analyze the Learning Experience

Thorough analysis can be an excellent strategic tool in any attempt to increase learner engagement. Analysis is the process that occurs after the collection of learner feedback about a specific program. This feedback contains valuable data that you can review extensively.

Ensuring an effective analysis process requires a dependable and sustainable method of collecting feedback. The data needs to be accurate and conclusive. Once you have established a clear set of procedures for the collection of feedback, you can conduct a thorough analysis of learner engagement.

Another important note is that feedback is often segmented, even though it generally contains data that cover all of the stages of a learning program. Feedback queries must hone in on specific details about learner engagement in order to generate responses that provide clear-cut information. Then, you’ll be able to discern the level of engagement achieved and gain deeper insight into what measures you can take for improvement. If harvested adequately, you can conduct qualitative research to make linear decisions and produce a practical plan to increase learner engagement.

Since the discussions about increasing engagement are likely to continue, consider these methods a good starting point for developing a workable engagement plan. It will take dedication and persistence but also the understanding that increased engagement will lead to a successful and effective learning experience.