Five steps to learner engagement

 How do you rollout a new training programme for an essential organisational process when the staff are reluctant to participate? Find out how Eleanor MacKenzie, from The Church of Scotland, overcame this challenge to engage staff.

Member fact file: 

The Church of Scotland has been a member of the Charity Learning Consortium since 2017 and uses both the learning management system and eLearning that we provide

1. Partner with business

The training programme was designed to reinvigorate the appraisals process. The organisation needed this to improve – and fast – as it was increasingly difficult to find out how their staff were really feeling. The charity wanted to re-engage with staff and get them excited about appraisals again. The organisation had the need and the learning and development team had the skill to make it happen, so they teamed up to benefit from the best of both. The Church of Scotland communicated how important the process and its accompanying training was and freed people up to attend; the learning team delivered training that challenged and changed mindsets and behaviour. 

2. Have a sponsor, and use them well

Eleanor made sure she had a sponsor – the Chief Officer at The Church of Scotland. More than that, she made sure everyone knew she had a sponsor. He put his face front and centre of the programme and even attended the opening of workshops, to endorse the training and promote the work Eleanor and her team were doing. Seeing someone of this level of seniority give their time subtly delivered the message: ‘If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.’

2. Meet people half way

The training was originally designed to be an in-person workshop, but Eleanor quickly realised that, in the wake of the pandemic, some people were reluctant to attend. However, others were relishing the chance to socialise with their colleagues again and see each other in person. Rather than battle to get people in a room, she decided to offer the same training in two different formats: face-to-face or via webinar. This choice helped to increase attendance.

4. Split your audience

The training being delivered was twofold. On the one hand it showed managers how to conduct an effective appraisal meeting; on the other it explained what staff should expect from their manager’s handling of their appraisals. Whenever you have training that tackles two levels of seniority, and has the potential to expose gaps in the senior person’s skills or abilities, consider how you manage your audience. Managers can be reluctant to attend if they know their team will be there, and may feel embarrassed about their skills gaps. So, when practical and appropriate, consider splitting your audience into managers and non-managers. The content can be the same, but the atmosphere in the training room will be significantly different. When delegates feel surrounded by their peers, and are not at risk of exposure, you’ll see greater engagement with the trainer, more questions from participants and an overall willingness to learn. When Eleanor split her audience she saw a much greater uptake in attendance. She also noticed that conversations in the sessions with managers were much more open and transparent about the difficulties they were facing. 

6. Sell the value

Resistance to training is an issue which has its roots in organisational culture, and that means it takes time and effort to change. Whenever you run a successful training intervention, you need to show the delegates – and the business – the impact it can make. Eleanor was able to report on the number of appraisals completed before and after training. Even better than that, she was able to take the comments about learning and development that people had made during their appraisals and enact real organisational change. As a direct result, she invested more in existing wellbeing programmes, and even worked alongside the business to develop a new menopause policy. She was also able to better estimate how much training people needed on different topics and redirect funds into the areas most aligned with their needs. All of this showed delegates that there was a real, tangible value to attending workshops and follow the advice given. This in turn should hopefully make people more open to attending training in the future. Gradually, over time, there should be greater engagement with learning and development.  

About by Eleanor Mackenzie

Eleanor Mackenzie is the Learning and Development Officer at The Church of Scotland. 

This article was written by Harri Savage, Online Learning Specialist at ELK Online. Harri has spent more than a decade working with organisations to help them craft their learning stories. From designing creative learning solutions, to kick-starting engagement in existing programmes, she evolves learning from a one-time hit to a long-lasting development culture.

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