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Learner Engagement: Inspiring Your People to Be Advocates

Oliver Craddock 

July 6, 2018

How often have you heard that people are “too busy” for engagement with learning?¹ “Other business goals always take precedence,” “business leaders don’t view it as a priority… ” Sound familiar?

But are these barriers impassable, or do they expose a different problem?

We discussed the ongoing struggle the L&D community has boosting engagement in learning within organizations in a webinar² we hosted recently with Laura Overton from L&D research experts Towards Maturity.

Sadly, some people believe that it’s an impossible challenge in today’s time-poor world, with 95 percent³ of L&D professionals wanting an increase in learner engagement, but only 26 percent believing they are successful in achieving that.

The context for us at Mind Tools working with Towards Maturity is a shared passion and belief that this isn’t the case.

But the challenge is considerable. Towards Maturity’s survey of 10,000 learners reveals that we are faced with a divide between what L&D is delivering and what the people in our organizations actually want.

Recurring Disconnects Between L&D and Learners

Laura said, “There are recurring disconnects between L&D and learners, with a communication gap opening up.

“In the webinar, it was fascinating to see the responses to the discussion about the current divide, with many people citing similar issues, such as struggling to find time, not having enough resources, and the difficulty of finding a common ground between different generations in the workforce.”

The data shows the divide exists in three areas:

1. Timely access to the right content.

2. Recognition for learning achievements.

3. Ability to influence learner behavior.

An example of the divide is around the purpose of online learning:

  • 61 percent of learners are motivated to learn online for personal development.
  • Only 21 percent of L&D support career aspirations with online learning.

Stepping back, as an organization that has a marketing mindset in its DNA, Mind Tools views this with a different filter to many others. The key to improving performance is not to think of this from an L&D perspective, but to apply thinking from other business areas to identify the barriers, and to focus single-mindedly on overcoming them.

Overcoming Barriers to Engagement

Put simply: what is the core problem or barrier? How do we overcome it?

The new learning team in any organization needs to develop new skills to drive this. Or, realistically, it needs expertise from elsewhere initially, to supercharge existing or new initiatives with a new ways of thinking to implement a modernized learning strategy.

79 percent of the best organizations, as identified by Towards Maturity in their Top Deck of learning leaders, draw on business expertise in their organization to support learning, and to achieve the benefits they seek from a modernized learning strategy.

In order to bridge the three main divides, listed above, you must take a step back and think like a marketing manager to overcome the barriers.

At Mind Tools we have started to introduce the idea of a “learning funnel” in our work with organizations around the world.

 

towards maturity webinar

The learning funnel is borrowed from standard marketing thinking. We all want to move people through a journey to become advocates of learning within our organizations. But to achieve that in one step is not realistic, and attempts to do so are unlikely to succeed.

Define Your Learner Personas

Our efforts should be focused on moving our audience one stage at time, with motivational nudges at each key moment, bringing greater momentum and success.

Just think of all of your new year’s resolutions. These are made with great intentions, but rarely achieved! This is because the goal is usually too large, and we don’t reinforce our route to success with small steps and appropriate recognition. It is certainly true for me!

How do you put a learning funnel into practice? To start, consult members of your marketing team: take them for lunch (marketing minds work best over a free lunch!), and ask them how they would define an approach to engage a target audience, and move them through the funnel.

Then, take a step back and define your learner personas: who are they, what are they looking to achieve, what channels do they use, and what is your competition for their attention?

A quick example is from a global media and data client. This client operates in a fast-paced, instant communication-led world, leaving its people no opportunity for engagement with career or personal development. This is a common challenge, but it’s exaggerated at this company due to its style of working.

The learning team profiled its staff as if they were customers and identified a desire to engage in digital learning. So it searched for opportunities where it could nudge people towards the conversion stage.

The opportunity came during the daily commute, as the majority of their employees travelled on “passive” forms of transport (train, bus, metro).

 

Learners were sent SMS messages with links to learning content during their commuting time, catching them when they were available and had time to learn. This led to significant overall increases in engagement in learning.

Small Changes Make Big Differences

The result was that an innovative marketing-led approach to boost people’s engagement in learning allowed them to overcome the barrier of delivering the right content at the right time, and it supported the organization’s strategic goals.

After all, intentions don’t link to permanent change: you need to nudge people to drive results.

Summing up some of the examples we discussed in the webinar, Laura said, “Small changes make a big difference and we explore the factors that help us reconnect with learners in ‘Bridging the Divide.’

“It is critical that we start to find pragmatic ways in which we can close this communications gap and be intentional about the changes we put in place.”

For more on this issue of how to Bridge the Divide, please see our webinar or the report produced in partnership with Towards Maturity.

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