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Learning and Engagement: How Do You Connect The Dots?

As a specialist in how to market training, I’m always curious about what organizations do to connect people with learning experiences. But recently, learning engagement seems to be a hot topic across the L&D community.

Casual conversations with colleagues at the Bersin by Deloitte IMPACT summit and the ATD Conference confirmed that other learning professionals are just as concerned as I am about creating stronger linkage between training programs and the people those programs are designed to help.

Earlier this month at the Expertus customer summit, Josh Bersin led a formal discussion about the role of engagement in high-impact learning organizations. When he asked a room full of corporate learning leaders to describe their top challenges, three clear themes emerged:

1) Improving measurement of training ROI;
2) Developing better microlearning content;
3) Increasing adoption by more effectively engaging learning audiences.

Of course, these problems aren’t new. Perhaps because they’re complex — or because there’s no “magic bullet” solution — the learning community has struggled with these challenges for a long time. Regardless, we should recognize that they’re still open issues, and think creatively about new ways to address them.

For today, let’s attack what I believe is the toughest and most common concern — learning engagement.

3 Ways to Strengthen Learning Engagement

1) Increase Marketing Budget
Why is engagement such a big challenge? First and foremost, many organizations lack sufficient budget for marketing and promotion! Consider this: The typical training company spends 25-40% of its revenue on marketing and sales. In other words, if a training company charges $1000/seat for a two-day class, they invest around $250 per participant to promote and sell that class. Compare this with whatever your learning organization spends per person to communicate with target audiences and “sell” content to them. In my experience, corporate training organizations typically invest less than 5% on sales and marketing. That’s a huge difference — and I believe it’s the primary reason why low engagement is such a big problem.

2) Gain Buy-In From The Top
No surprise here. If your executives support your training programs, your managers will also support them, and so will your learners. But this doesn’t happen by mandate, alone. It starts by helping executives build a culture of learning, so engagement in development initiatives becomes a norm. Although this sounds straight-forward, it’s not easy to achieve or sustain. That’s why many companies do not have a strong learning culture. However, those who do also consistently attract and retain the best talent.

Research reveals that, when companies truly value learning and development, their training budgets are more generous. Staff is larger and more stable. And learning initiatives aren’t cut at the first sign of an economic downturn. Your employees know they’ll spend a portion of their time developing skills, knowledge and competency as part of their job. On the other hand, when learning isn’t a business priority, training organizations must proactively work to move the meter — starting with company leadership.

3) Create More Engaging Learning Content
If you can’t rely on the first two solutions, then you must focus on making your learning experiences more accessible, relevant and immersive. Remember the quote from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come”? Kevin Costner’s character didn’t have a marketing budget to attract fans to his ballpark, so he built a better ballpark and star players appeared — followed by crowds of fans. Obviously, that was a fantasy. But if you can build content that excites your audience, then word of mouth will spread, and more people will engage with your learning programs.

Of course, creating engaging training content is easier said than done. So we asked our customers to share specific ideas. Here are some of their best responses…

What Makes Learning Content More Engaging? Suggestions From Customers:

1) Certification: Certification incentives are a powerful way to drive engagement. Any training company will tell you — when learning is tied to certification, people are MUCH more likely to purchase and complete a course. That’s because certification requires thorough subject knowledge — not just whatever people think they need to know now to get by. Are your products or services tied to certification? If not, you should seriously consider this kind of structure.

2) Gamification: Develop a healthy competition that motivates people, and rewards them for participation. Some modern learning management systems like ExpertusONE build gamification into the LMS, so learning activity and progress can be tracked and reviewed in the form of points, badges and leaderboards. However, for a complete game-based learning experience, it’s also important to integrate this kind of logic directly into your training content.

3) Embedded LMS capabilities: No one wants an LMS to be an isolated destination that people visit only when they take an elearning course. Instead, learning content should fit into everyone’s normal, daily work flow. For example, people who rely on Salesforce.com as their primary work application also have “anytime” access to learning content, thanks to direct integration with ExpertusONE LMS. Similarly, with embeddable widgets (which is simply a piece of code that you can insert into a website), you can to bring the LMS interface to anyone in that environment. For instance, you can embed your training calendar in your intranet, so it’s always visible to employees.

4) Learn within an application: For software training, it’s possible to embed your training directly into the target application, itself. One product that does a good job of this is WalkMe — which guides users in completing online tasks, and encourages self-service training and software adoption.

5) Peer-to-peer sharing and recommendations: It should be quick and easy for participants to share training content and related ideas with classmates and colleagues outside of a learning program.

At the moment people want to share knowledge or information from within the learning context, they should be able to pass it along to others in their workgroup. Likewise, they should be able to recommend the course to colleagues, or write a review, or rate the course for others who may be interested.

What Do You Suggest?
Is training adoption optimized at your company? Are your classes full? Is your e-learning content being consumed and completed at a rate that meets or exceeds your expectations? Do business units view your learning organization as a valuable partner in helping them improve their productivity and performance?

www.expertus.com