What is learner engagement?
Learner engagement is a measure that reflects the quantity and quality of a learner’s participation in their courses and every other aspect of their educational program. Also, it echoes a learner’s interaction and cooperation with co-learners and instructors. In other words, learner engagement is the measure of a potentially successful learning experience for everyone concerned.
To better understand this, let’s examine what engaged learners look like.
What does an engaged learner look like?
An engaged learner looks:
● Active in their learning
● Eager to participate
● Willing to expend effort
How does all that manifest in practice though? To put it simply, if your learners all complete their assignments on time, produce excellent results, and participate in collaborative spaces like discussions, you can confidently say that they are engaged.
On the other hand, if they only complete assignments, but neglect other activities like webinars and forum questions, and their results are poor, then they probably lack in engagement.
If a learner is having fun, does this mean they are engaged?
You might have noticed that “entertained” is not among the features listed under the learner engagement definition. More often than not, it is assumed that the answer to the question “what is learner engagement?” is “having fun”. While learning can definitely be fun, that is by no means an accurate or helpful definition of learner engagement.
Amusing graphics, flashy scenarios, and funny videos can all add to the “fun quotient” of a course, without really affecting engagement. Learners who are only on board for the fun videos and leaderboards, experience engagement at a superficial level.
In contrast, learners who are truly engaged not only enjoy these fun features, but also feel more motivated to acquire new knowledge and skills from the course.
The 3 dimensions of engagement
To better understand what does work when it comes to improving engagement, we’ll dive deeper into its three main facets.
Engagement is not like a switch that’s either on or off. Rather, it occurs simultaneously on multiple levels.
When a learner is engaged on one level, but not on the others, their performance and knowledge retention are bound to suffer.
1. The cognitive level
Cognitive engagement means taking an active, committed approach to coming up with learning strategies. But what is that exactly?
Well, imagine someone who devises their own mnemonics to remember content that is complex. Or someone who draws mind maps to organize newly acquired information. These learners take the initiative to represent what they learn in their own context and employ diverse learning strategies to absorb information as efficiently as possible and improve their performance.
Cognitive engagement requires learners to feel good about their work and their ability to master new knowledge. Engaging learners on a cognitive level can be achieved through robust course design and consistent training content.
2. The emotional level
What is learner engagement on an emotional level? It’s when, during training, someone feels connected to others (as well as the training context itself), feels committed to training, and experiences low levels of anxiety.
However, sometimes learners can feel isolated during their learning journey and, therefore, emotionally disengaged. These learners are very likely to feel detached from course objectives and uninvested in how they and others perform in it.
Preventing these feelings and fostering emotional engagement can be achieved through careful course design and implementation. If a learner is given sufficient explanation of why their training is important and how it could improve their work with others, they are more likely to engage with the content emotionally.
To increase emotional engagement and prevent feelings of anxiety and isolation, organizations must provide strong support from trainers and subject matter experts and encourage the use of social learning tools, like forums and webinars.
3. The behavioral level
Behavioral engagement is very easy to observe. Behaviorally engaged learners always complete their tasks and show up to their sessions. Also, they are relatively active on social forums.
The catch is that behavioral engagement is also the shallowest form of engagement. Simply completing activities and working through content is not the same as retaining or applying new knowledge. In fact, behavioral engagement can still be quite passive, despite the learner doing whatever is required of them.
Without enough cognitive and emotional engagement, learners might complete a whole course without having improved their skills and knowledge at all. That is especially true for adult learners, who often view a course as an extra responsibility or another box to tick, and proceed to complete it with minimal engagement.
Then how can you spot low engagement despite active participation? Just take a closer look at the learners’ effort in training activities. You’ll notice it is mostly superficial, while their knowledge retention from previous activities mostly proves limited in assessments.
Engagement in adult learners
Teaching adult learners can be an uphill battle. Not only do they have many responsibilities and duties, but their needs and preferences vary depending on their experience.
Shaping adult learning to increase engagement on all levels
Adults are motivated to stay engaged on all three main levels when:
● They have the opportunity to explore
Take all the factors that promote engagement in adults under careful consideration in your course design. Plan exploratory assignments that take learners out of the course’s realm and require additional research.
● Assignments are brief and convenient
When you create assignments, break them up into smaller sections that take up to ten minutes to complete. That makes them more convenient for learners with a busy schedule.
● Content is highly relevant to real-world context
Scenarios are a great teaching tool to engage adults emotionally. Make sure to make them realistic and link their learning objectives to real-life situations.
● They receive frequent positive reinforcement
Adults expect positive reinforcement for a job well-done in the workplace. Apply the same principles to their training by building opportunities for feedback from instructors and SMEs into the learning experience.
Social engagement: is it the 4th dimension?
Adult learners are more engaged on an emotional and cognitive level when they bring their own work and life experiences into their learning. Their engagement grows even stronger when they share those experiences with others.
Networking with other learners and learning from their experiences is a critical aspect of social engagement — arguably a fourth dimension of learner engagement. Social engagement can be the anchor that keeps drawing adult learners in, keeps them motivated, and even inspired.
The question is how can organizations increase not only social but also cognitive, emotional and behavioral engagement through business training?
What is learner engagement in a business-training context?
In corporate training, learner engagement makes all the difference between merely participating in learning activities and gaining knowledge from them. As we have said already, behavioral engagement is not by itself an adequate measure of overall engagement.
For learners within the organization to flourish, they must engage in learning personally on a cognitive, emotional and social level. By engaging on every level, their training is more likely to lead to improved skills and knowledge to be applied directly in their roles at the workplace.
For example, when learners are truly engaged in conflict resolution and teamwork skills training, they are more likely to improve their performance in these areas later on. That, in turn, means that they will be more focused and productive as a team, adding more value to the organization as a whole.
Adding value for engaged learners
At its core, learner engagement is the measure of whether or not someone has been given sufficient motivation to fully invest themselves in learning. In the next chapter, we will thoroughly explore the connection between learner engagement and factors like performance and workplace happiness.
Before that, pause and take a moment to rethink our original question: “what is learner engagement?” Also, how would you describe a learner that is engaged in your training? On what levels do you need learner engagement to improve in your organization?