Learner Engagement: Definition, Benefits and Challenges.

Written by Tim Newham

19 April 2023

employee engagement

what is learner engagement?

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What is learner engagement in the workplace? We define learner engagement plus why you should harness it.

When you’re upskilling or training your employees, you want them to feel invested.

The truth is, engaging your employees fully in their learning stands to benefit you and them.

In this blog, we’ll look at:

  • What learner engagement is
  • What an engaged employee looks like
  • Different types of learner engagement
  • The benefits of high learner engagement
  • The challenges of achieving high learner engagement

Let’s get stuck in.

What is learner engagement?

Put simply, learner engagement measures how successful a learning experience is.

What does an engaged learner look like?

An engaged learner will tend to have some easy-to-spot qualities that will show. These qualities might not be ones you see day-to-day.

Generally an engaged learner will be:

  • Keen to participate
  • Get tasks done on, or ahead of, time
  • Motivated and putting in effort
  • Asking questions and doing further work
  • Inspired
  • Encouraging other learners

An engaged learner can often carry on this enthusiasm to the rest of their work, meaning better results for you and a more content employee.

Encouraging engaged employees means training is done on time, results are excellent, there’s participation in discussions and more.

6 types of learner engagement

It’s generally thought that there are six types of learner engagement: cognitive, emotional, behavioural, social, physical and cultural.

Finding the right balance between each is key to creating a fully optimised course of learning content.

You might want to consider blended learning too when it comes to creating learning content, where you mix online and face-to-face learning.

Let’s investigate the 6 types of learner engagement:

  • Behavioural learner engagement
  • Cognitive learner engagement
  • Emotional learner engagement
  • Social learner engagement
  • Physical learner engagement
  • Cultural learner engagement

Behavioural engagement

Put simply, behavioural engagement highlights action and effort.

You could categorise things in the list below as behavioural engagement:

  • Paying attention
  • Asking questions
  • Seeking help

Cognitive engagement

Cognitive learner engagement simply shows that your learners are interested in the course matter.

Cognitively engaged students to go above and beyond the requirements because they’re enjoying the training or being challenged.

Emotional engagement

Affective or emotional engagement shows any emotional reaction to tasks.

The greater the student’s interest level, the higher their enjoyment. And this reaches out to other factors too like curiosity, sense of belonging, positive value and more.

Physical engagement

Sometimes the trick to learning something is to do it for yourself. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everything.

But, for example, if you work in healthcare, then you might have to practice taking blood as part of your training.

By doing it, you start to connect the dots and create a repeatable, physical formula.

Cultural engagement

Cultural learning engagement is all about how your learning and development culture promotes learning within your organisation and how your training reflects it.

For example, you might have a company practice of shouting out employees that attend a particular course. Feeling fully integrated within your company, through learning, is key to driving engagement and increasing learning retention.

Social engagement

With the rise of modern technology and social media, we believe the fourth principle to learner engagement is social engagement.

That’s enjoying sharing notes online, congratulating, or rallying colleagues through online debate, showing a competitive spirit.

All of these can show highly engaged employees. And what’s even better is that you can encourage this principle with the right tools in place.

We use Totara’s basecode to provide organisations with bespoke learning and talent platforms. One flavour they offer is their Engage platform. This is a specific social and engagement platform that can help you create conversations around your learning content.

From sharing tips and tricks relating to your course content, to sharing quizzes or asking questions, the Engage function unlocks the door to the fourth principle: social learning.

Benefits of high learner engagement

The benefits of learner engagement feel a little obvious, but let’s go through them anyway.

There are two sides to it; the impact on your employees as well as the impact to your workplace.

The importance of learner engagement for learners

A learner’s level of engagement highlights their commitment to upskilling and developing their knowledge and skills.

But what are the tangible benefits?

Lower dropout rates

No matter if training is compulsory, it can be a challenge to get employees to even complete training.

When it comes to compliance, you need to ensure they’re completing these essential tasks.

With good learner engagement, you’ll find yourself chasing less and that employees are less likely to stop halfway through courses.

Higher knowledge retention

Learners who aren’t engaged might still be completing their training, but they’re likely not carrying it with them outside of the classroom.

Engaged learners are more physically involved in their learning and it shows. With high engagement, you can stand to see better knowledge take up and retention.

Improved learner performance

Better knowledge and skills can only be a good thing. Organisations that offer opportunities to develop stand to see a continually improving workforce.

But, given disengaged learners are less likely to retain their new knowledge, they’re also by consequence less likely to be able to apply it to their job.

More productive employees are going to see better job performance which puts them in good stead of promotions, pay rises and general career development.

The importance of learner engagement for employees

It’s not just employees who stand to see benefits. High levels of learner engagement are great for workplaces too.

Improve learner performance

Engaged learners are motivated learners. They’re keen to learn, develop and perform well.

The skills they learn through learning content makes them more adept at their job, meaning better work performances.

Build a culture of learning

Engaged employees help you to establish a learning culture. And a good course is going to get good feedback and recommendations, meaning you’ll get more staff asking to learn, or engaging more in their training.

Establish better working relationships

Social relationships in the workplace are important. And learning can help foster them. Just think first about all the different people who might sit together on a particular course. That’s new relationships being established across teams. But it also helps deepen previous relationships too.

Encourage personal development  

Investing in your people is a worthwhile endeavour. Not just because it’ll improve work performance. It can also improve learning transfer across teams and help reduce employee turnover.

More engaged employees stick around for longer and that’s very good news for your bottom line.

Challenges to achieving high learner engagement

There are several obstacles in the way when it comes to achieving high learner engagement.

We have these down to:

  • A lack of learning time
  • Poor learning tools
  • Negative mindset
  • Previous experiences

Let’s go through each in a little more detail.

A lack of learning time

Your employees are busy. They’re managing full days of work and are easily distracted by ringing phones, urgent tasks and whatever else crops up.

This can leave learners disengaged and lacking time to properly dedicate to their development.

When they do engage with learning materials, they might try to skip some of it, or rush through it.

Solve this by allocating set time, away from the hubbub of work, to dedicate to learning. You can also create short courses that can fit more easily within the working day.

Poor learning tools

A learning management system can help you centralise all of your learning and talent data and information.

It removes the admin work from a lot of L&D processes and allows you to get better data on where your learners are up to.

Negative mindset

Not everyone is going to take to learning. They might have had poor experiences previously that mean they are simply past the point of learning anything new.

Some people are also simply just resistant to learning and training, and these tend to be disengaged from the get-go.

The trick around this is to show the value of your L&D materials. What will they stand to gain by getting involved?

Previous experiences

Whether it’s a bad teacher, poor quality learning materials or enrolling in poor fit courses, there are a lot of things that can leave a sour taste in your employees’ mouths.

The trick here is to squash any concerns early on. Create an environment where learners can regularly and safely share their feedback.

Start creating high learner engagement in your workforce

Think Learning is a leading learning and talent platform that supports customers across sectors get more out of their L&D departments.

From feedback, to process building, learning management system to performance management, we’ve taken the great bits of Totara and added our own plugins and tools to help create a truly bespoke solution.