5 Tools to Improve Online Learning Engagement

Woman looking at a monitor
Thought Industries
March 25, 2021

Improving online learning engagement is a proven strategy to differentiate yourself in a crowded and competitive marketplace. Kindling learner engagement is one of the most powerful ways to:

  • Ensure that learners complete the course, internalize and incorporate the training.
  • Increase learner satisfaction and accomplishment.
  • Create satisfied learners that are active, loyal and willing to share with their friends.

Engaging online learners has a profound impact on the effectiveness of your training, course enrollment numbers, and your near and long-term revenue.

But what exactly is learner engagement? And how can companies encourage their learners to be as engaged as possible? Let’s start by defining the concept.

What is Online Learning Engagement and Why is it Important?

Learner engagement can be viewed as sharing certain principles with the adjacent concept of student engagement. Here is a great definition of student engagement:

“The degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning …, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education. Learning improves when students are inquisitive, interested, or inspired, and that learning tends to suffer when customers are bored, dispassionate, disaffected, or otherwise disengaged.”

Swap “student” for the broader “learner” and you have a solid definition of learner engagement. In business terms, the notion is identical, though the “students” are your customers, who enroll in or subscribe to your education offering. Learner engagement is a measure of how successful a learning experience can be for both the learners and the instructors.

Proactive recognition, measurement, and encouragement of learner engagement takes on greater urgency when online, where learners can often feel isolated and disconnected.

The learning platform becomes the central hub for implementation of your e-learning engagement strategy, offering the right tools at the right time to deepen the learner’s experience. This results in satisfied learners who are motivated to continue their education.

Conversely, unengaged customers take one course, go away unsatisfied and don’t become as productive as they should be.

5 Tools to Boost Online Learning Engagement

  1. Learning Paths: The learning path is the learner’s roadmap to knowledge, achievement and advancement. It’s the brass ring, the pot of gold, and it is your job to illuminate the way to get there because the end of the rainbow for you is an increase in average courses per learner.Improving online learning engagement relies on the learner investing time, energy and money. Therefore, the path must be laid out in clear stages, with compelling logic as to why each course in the series is needed, what is required, and most importantly, the knowledge, status and satisfaction that the learner gets on completion.Make it easy for the learner to see the sequence of milestones and the completion criteria. Understand that courses beyond a certain point may exceed the requirements of their current position. Promote the learning path over time.
  2. Certification Programs: Certifications are, essentially, a reward, a motivator to complete a course or a series of courses. It is an independent assurance that the recipient has demonstrated an expressed set of knowledge and skills to a predetermined level of expertise. Certification can be formal, such as Continuing Education Units (CEUs) or industry certifications, or informal, such as those bestowed by your organization or the parent company of your learner.Professionals, such as those in healthcare and finance, require these CEUs to maintain their credentials and advance in their careers. Other learners may see that attaining a certification will give them the credentials to new status within their profession and impress current and future employers. Such an important certification at the end of a learning path may be a strong incentive for a learner to take all the courses required, when they wouldn’t otherwise. When choosing a learning platform, be sure to look for a partner that can provide a certification engine and integrated course development tools that enable the creation of custom certifications.
  3. In-App Widgets: A very smart colleague of mine refers to in-app widgets as “instant learning”, because that’s exactly what they are.Technically, they are mini-application views embedded in other applications. Practically, a learner can access information about courses, notifications, learner paths, certifications, events, gamification, etc. within Salesforce or other systems central to business life (such as the Home screen). It makes it easy and convenient for learners to get, with a click, the training information they need, elegantly.There’s no need to stop and go elsewhere. All the information is at the learners’ fingertips. No need to login separately, or search through options. This makes it easy to foster customer learning because you and they are always connected via an In-App Training Dashboard.
  4. Gamification: As defined in our article “Incorporating Gamification into the Learning Experience”:“Gamification is … the use of gaming elements … to incentivize users. In online learning, gamification can take many forms— interactive lessons, rewards, badging, milestones, leaderboards, etc. When gamification is incorporated into online learning, learners are typically more productive, engaged, and motivated to get involved with their overall learning experience. “Gamification makes online learning fun – the proverbial spoonful of sugar. From a strategic online learning engagement POV, it provides the learner with a constant stream of trackable instances of immediate gratification.Let’s say that in a course or in a learning management system, the learner gets 2 points for interacting, 3 points for downloading content, and 4 points for answering an extra-credit question. The learner instantly gets points, which have a predetermined value (perhaps you can “cash them in”). You get the information to quantify how much e-learning engagement you are seeing. You can improve what you can measure.Instant gratification yields instant satisfaction. Your organization benefits from increased e-learning engagement, learner loyalty and learner retention. 
  5. Communication Strategy: Your marketing strategy for communicating with your learners has a powerful impact on satisfaction and demand for further learning. Deployed strategically, they can support, expand, and deepen customer learning.There are 3 approaches to engaging online learners, each unique. The common thread is that positive outcomes depend on the quality of implementation.

Example: Chat
Learners want “one touch resolution” – an empowered individual providing a quick and effective answer or resolution
Example: Delivery of information specific to a course the learner is taking
Learners want personalized value, not unsolicited, untargeted communications. Consider adopting learner notifications, where customized messages are triggered by a learner’s profile or progress.
Example: Discussion boards
Engaging online learners needs to happen in real-time. Communication and collaboration create communities. Questions can be answered and ideas explored, providing extra value to the learning environment.

Improve Your Online Learning Engagement Strategy More Effectively

Online learning is a crowded, highly competitive marketplace. Compelling differentiation and long-term success are unlikely to come from a huge breakthrough. Rather, it is the methodical pace of innovation and improvement that builds the platform for near- and long-term profitability by improving online learning engagement and increasing learner satisfaction, involvement, and loyalty.

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