The key to learner engagement

Harri Candy explains five clear steps to sustain meaningful learner engagement

You’ve chosen or created high quality content to support your learners’ and organisation’s goals; optimised your learning platform for the best experience; created pathways, playlists and programmes to guide and direct curious minds…but your learners just aren’t using it. What do you do?  

Engagement is like the keystone in a bridge – this is the last stone placed, the centre point which exerts pressure down both sides of the arch. Without it, the bridge will fail, with it the bridge will stand strong.  Communicating your offer to your learners is often the last piece you put in place but without it, everything falls apart.

Here are five steps to engage your learners and ensure your message is heard. 

Step 1: Find your learners’ source of truth

Find out where your learners already get their information from. Use these, rather than create a new information channel. For example, do they read weekly newsletters, office posters, desk drops, social platforms or promotional messages on the intranet.

Remember to think about different learner demographics – don’t assume that staff and/or volunteers all use the same information source. 

Step 2: Be authentic

It’s tempting to stick to impersonal phrases when writing your messages, such as: ‘learn how you can become a better manager’. But this feels a bit flat. 

Here are some examples of more human messages:

  • Having a range of problem solving techniques at my disposal has been an absolute life-saver this week. I would highly recommend the Critical Thinking and Problem Solving course.
  • This week I’ve been finding my ‘Einstein window’ with Managing Your Time (11 mins), practising Vulcan mind melds and squid hands with Computer and Text Neck-Stretching Exercises (21 mins) and learning how to separate high stress from high pressure to improve my Decision Making for High Stress Situations (36 mins).

Step 3: Track communications to see what works

There’s a big difference between sending information out and people reading it. Find out from your marketing and comms colleagues if they measure click rates and open rates. You could also monitor platform and/or content activity when you send messages out. For example, is there a rise in people accessing a course that you’ve promoted? This information can help you determine where best to focus your comms efforts. 

When I tracked comms for one project, I found that an emailed newsletter wasn’t very effective. On the other hand, a weekly Yammer post grabbed people’s attention, so I focused my efforts on doing that. 

Step 4: Tell them, tell them and tell them again!

You’ve crafted a great promotional message, sent it out in your newsletter, posted it on the intranet homepage, and shared it on your organisation’s social platform. Then you wait… and wait… and wait. But there is no extra learner activity. 

Don’t feel disheartened. Marketing professionals understand that it takes lots of nudges to encourage someone to buy your product. So, put your content in front of people, little and often.

By the same token, repetition can be boring. It’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of always recommending the same type of content, or using the same standard phrases with ‘insert name of training here’.

To keep it fresh, pick different topics for each message – anything from wellbeing to service delivery or data integrity. It’s even better if you can dovetail your messages with organisational initiatives.

Step 5: Peer pressure prevails

What optional content are people drawn to? Find out what your most popular courses or resources are and promote those. Capitalise on what people are already enjoying and craft your message to highlight it. For example: “Report Writing Basics is trending this week. I’m going to see what all the fuss is about, how about you?” 

So, does this approach actually work? Yes! I was tasked with launching a new content library, full of 100% optional content, to a global population. Within six weeks I had encouraged approx 1,000 people to sign up and start using it. Today I still have both a steady stream of around 20 new users per week; a return rate of over 70%; and content views averaging more than an hour per learner within a 30 day period. And now that I’m in the habit of posting a message to Yammer each week, it’s no more than a five minute task on a Friday morning whilst I’m sipping my coffee.

About Harri Candy

Harri Candy is an Online Learning Specialist at ELK Online and a former member of the Charity Learning Consortium. She focuses on helping organisations facilitate a learning culture through high quality assets, effective marketing and all-levels engagement. 

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