Rome wasn’t built in a day: E-learning engagement lessons

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The original version of this article is published in HR World Magazine.

Living a global pandemic means that in 2020 large portion of learning happened online. However, before we jump into the ever-evolving world of digital learning opportunities, let’s stop for a second and think of the overall goal of an L&D organization.

At this very moment, people in your organization are already learning – with or without you. While you are reading this article, some of them may be searching YouTube trying to understand how to prepare for client meetings. Others are reading books, and some are being coached.

Your goal as an L&D professional is to help your organization learn more efficiently and facilitate timely learning interventions depending on business and employee needs. To be successful in this endeavor, you need to know your business priorities, understand your employees learning habits, and have an idea of the skills and knowledge you would like to transfer.

Going forward, your learning strategy will greatly depend on digital learning – and that’s great news! Digital learning allows us to engage a large number of employees in less time. However, it also means that one of the biggest challenges – how to keep your learners engaged – has become even bigger.

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How do you ensure engagement for your e-learning programs when everything is done over the screen rather than in person? Furthermore, how do you engage employees to learn digitally when they’ve just finished their fifth Zoom call in a row?

Read on to find out!

The concentric circles of e-learning engagement

Even during the best of times, ensuring engagement has always been a challenge for any training, let alone online ones. We all know that group interactions help keep participants active and engaged, but how do you do that digitally, especially in an asynchronous (pre-recorded/self-paced) environment? Let’s take a closer look at what promotes engagement and how we can use this in a digital environment.

Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, building and maintaining engagement also requires time, effort, and patience. When it comes to e-learning, engagement has to be built into the design of digital training.

At AIHR, we believe there are three layers of e-learning activation: content, experience, and engagement. They can be visualized in the form of three concentric circles, as you can see in the infographic below.

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So, let’s start from the center and move outwards.

Offering effective learning content

The saying “Content is king” is not exclusive to the world of marketing, as the most important element in any learning activity is relevant, practical, and insightful content. If you want to have engaged learners, your content needs to be interesting and relevant to their learning objectives. This becomes pretty self-evident when it comes to delivering training. For the most part, learning has been blended, and digital content only complements personalized in-person training.

But moving to fully digital learning content poses big challenges to quite a few organizations since many training sessions are not available or easily transferable online. If you are in such a situation, you can focus on building new content with expert help or simply use specialized third-party training.

Build your own learning content

This option means that you will rely on your team of learning developers and trainers. This is suitable for large organizations with an existing pool of experts.

If you have the resources, building your own e-learning content will ensure maximum customization for your organization’s needs. The downside, however, is that it involves hiring a team of learning developers and trainers while building such a team that takes time. In the meantime, the content might become outdated.

Borrow your learning content

Now, if, after reading the “build” section above, you’ve been discouraged from digitizing learning, bear with me. I’ve got your back! Today you can “borrow” e-learning content, and there are plenty of choices out there.

Aside from the obvious fact that you don’t have to build your content, the advantage of borrowing content is that you don’t have to worry about relevance, upkeep, and innovation. With the sharp rise of digital learning, the eLearning industry has developed a diversified portfolio.

This means that as a learning manager, you can choose to borrow content from one-size-fits-all” providers such as Udemy. If you’re looking for courses on information technology, then ACloudGuru is the place to go. For growth hacking, Growth Tribe comes to mind. And at AIHR, we focus solely on upskilling HR professionals on everything digital and analytical that is HR-related.

Ensuring good use experience

Now, let’s pretend that you’ve mastered the first layer of our model. You’ve acquired amazing content, and now you have a pool of content available in different places. However, if you don’t curate the content well, your learners will end up spending more time searching for the right content, and you will lose engagement points. Let’s discuss how we’re going to fix that.

Decide on a Learning Management System (LMS)

If you’re coming from an established enterprise, odds are that you already have a learning management system in place – great for you. However, several growing organizations don’t have a budget for an LMS provider, and they are looking for a way to systematize learning. For these companies, the DIY (do it yourself) method is a good approach.

If that is your case, go for smaller solutions, such as Microsoft Sharepoint, Slack, Trello, or Google Classroom. This way, you can still create and curate content and allow your learners to interact. For example, in Slack, you can create learning channels for different topics. These become shared spaces where your learners can come together to learn as well as to have discussions.

The second option is to go pro. This would be suitable for big enterprises that need to manage both learning content and staggering numbers of learners across different geographies. You can invest in professional LMS from Talent IMs, Learn Upon, or Cross Knowledge.

For this, you will need to keep in mind the following things:

1. Less is more

We might not all be Marie Kondo, but that doesn’t mean that a bit of a minimalist approach doesn’t go a long way in ensuring a seamless learner experience. Your people don’t have time to figure out all the extra buttons and icons that will lead them to a million different places. Ensure your navigation controls on your home page only have a few easily understandable buttons with links that work. It’ll make everyone’s life much easier.

Something else to keep in mind is to make your LMS accessible from different devices. The great thing about online learning is that it can happen anywhere, at any time. Thus you don’t want to tie your learners down to a specific time slot in front of their office computer. Some learners might prefer to learn on the go, so why not make your LMS mobile-friendly? You can also consider adding the option of downloading online training for offline viewing.

Unsure where to begin? Go for the DIY solution first to start building your organization’s learning maturity.

2. Blend your learning

Imagine what a tedious adventure learning would be if your entire program were just filled to the brim with pages after pages of reading. And “boring” is definitely something that you do not want to be mentioned in the same sentence as your e-learning program.

So, how do you blend content? Aim for practicality in your content. With so many authoring tools available, it is very easy to get lost in designing amusing interactions and gamification elements. However, you run the risk of turning the learning into a clicking spree instead of acquiring knowledge.

To keep practicality in focus, you can borrow the steps from the coaching technique “tell-show-do-apply” to guide your thinking. Let’s look at an example! Imagine you are developing training on PowerBI. While “telling”, you will be sharing theory in a short video lesson about the PowerBI. By “showing”, you will use a software simulation video to demonstrate the basic functionalities of PowerBI. Then, you will ask your learners to “do” the activities themselves in a case study. Finally, you will ask your learners to “apply” their learning in a live session where they will be solving actual company problems using PowerBI. While building your learning paths, keep in mind this general rule: for every passive activity (reading or watching a video), there should be an engaging activity (quiz, poll, game, or online energizer) to balance it out.

A final point to consider is storytelling. Adults remember and learn better when we trigger emotions. So instead of pushing all the knowledge and skills onto your learners, try to seize opportunities where you can personalize your content to make it stick. Imagine you are conducting cybersecurity training. You can go on and on about how important it is to set up a two-factor authentication process and choose strong, unique passwords, or you can turn it into immersive e-learning, just like cybersecurity training provider Ninjio does it. They turn cybersecurity training into an exciting video story with a character your learners can relate to and learn from.

3. Enable socialization

During the pandemic, we’ve all experienced how essential socialization is for us. The reality of e-learning is that it gets lonely at times. Therefore, to make your learning experience even better, you need to design engagement opportunities on the platform. At AIHR, for example, we have built several options for learners to participate in a community of like-minded professionals, such as:

  • Forum discussions: learners can start their own conversations over topics related to the course.
  • Opinions: learners are encouraged to share opinions under different questions posted in our LMS.
  • Lesson discussions: like youtube, the learners can ask questions beneath lessons, and our instructors invite the learners to share their best practices in comments. This way, the students also learn from each other.

You can easily integrate activities like these in your e-learning and the key is to keep socialization on the top of your mind during your content development and curation process. Socialization is the key engagement factor since humans are social creatures, offline or online. The current situation that we’re in has proven this to be true more than ever. Online or offline, social interaction is what makes us human and keeps us engaged.

Maintaining e-learners’ engagement longterm

And now that you’ve successfully engaged your learners through unique experiences, how do you keep them there?

In HR, your workforce is your customer. As an L&D specialist, your training program is essentially the product that you need to promote to get your customers interested in what you’re trying to sell.

Basically, you need to create a brand. What do you stand for? What are you trying to achieve with your training? Are you recognizable? These are the questions that you should consider. Once you have these fundamentals in place, then it becomes much easier to communicate to others in your organization.

Think about it like this: when you think of Nike, Apple, or Ikea, you can already visualize their style, communication, and tone of voice. Their products represent ideas that touch you on an emotional level. Who says the same cannot be applied to L&D?

So, aside from building effective content and ensuring a great experience, your learning organization can borrow another marketing trick to establish its own brand-love recipe. Brand-love is a marketing strategy that seeks out loyal customers and turns them into champions and influencers of the brand.

Of course, here, your brand ambassadors are internal. For example, if you decide to build your learning content, why not engage with different subject matter experts in your organization and have them become the influencers? This can foster better collaboration between your team and others. Additionally, you have the opportunity to better understand the needs and pain points of different departments.

Earning recognition is also important. Make use of the leaderboards you have set up by posting interviews of those in the top positions. On the one hand, this is an act of recognition for those who have put in a lot of effort to learn. On the other hand, it can also encourage others to aim for the top.

Another thing that you can do is to make use of every opportunity available. Taking a few weeks off to lounge on the beach in Spain? You can still make sure that your learners are notified about training programs by setting up a simple out-of-office automatic reply containing a QR code that takes them directly to your academy. Again, the key to accomplishing this is to reserve enough time in your training project planning for designing and thinking about the communication.

Final thoughts

In our world, attention is a scarce commodity, and engagement even more so. How can you get your learners to be engaged, when so many different things are competing for their attention?

Keeping learners engaged boils down to having amazing and useful content, and making sure their learning experience is varied and interactive. Here, a good LMS is key, but so are activities and opportunities for socialization.

In the end, we, as humans, all crave company and interaction with each other, even when we are confined to a digital environment. The advantage that technology gives you is scalability and ease of access. You can now make learning available anytime and anywhere. And with the right ingredients in place, you’ll turn your learners into raving fans.

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