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10 tips for communicating with learners


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DateFebruary 21, 2008 Posted by: Laura Overton   Keywords: Alignment, involving managers, learner engagement, managing change, marketing, Motivation

Towards Maturity is all about helping each other improve the impact of technology assisted learning in the workplace. The toughest challenge is engaging staff with learning in this way, particularly with all the pressures they have on their time.

I have been working on this problem with organisations for most of my career and a while ago I published 10 tips for engaging learners in the workplace.  Here is my updated list - it has now gone up to 11 tips!


 Tip 1 - Relevance

At the risk of banging on the same gong - business relevance is the bedrock for all successful learning. In order to build commitment and generate enthusiasm, learning programmes must first be built in line with business drivers.  Once the solutions have been created for identified target audiences, good communications will help each of those audiences to see the relevance of the learning programme to their own job role. If we are to engage learners, we first need to address the ‘What’s in it for me?’ at the design phase and not leave it to the launch of a programme.

Tip 2 – Target Managers

Managers have considerable influence when it comes down to learning success – they allocate time, encourage usage, and believe in the benefits (or not as the case maybe.  Towards Maturity research (and others) has shown that learners at work are most influenced by their managers. Communicating with managers on an ongoing basis is critical and their engagement is critical. There are lots of ways to do this - linking back to appraisals, providing toolkits, communicating successes in a meaningful way. For example, many organisations, link back business unit performance to numbers of participants on specific programmes within that unit, using manager testimonials where available. Even if the information is anecdotal, this type of communication to the managers also helps to influence this influential group.

Tip 3 – Develop Learner curiosity

Despite the opportunitiy for access and flexibility that technology offers learning, communicating endless lists of courses do little to draw people in (in fact they can turn learners away if they can’t see what they need when they need it). Equally whilst technology can enable the most amazing learning experiences, most people are not interested in the technology itself. Tip 3 is about avoiding both jargon and lists! Anything else that feeds and builds curiosity will help to drive learner engagement as long as it is relevant to their situation ( personal or business) – posters or visual emails should use  interesting imagery that are either familiar or intriguing. It is also worth thinking how some of the new social networking tools can help build curiosity!

Tip 4 – Think about suitable recognition and reward

Our research has shown that learners at work like to be recognised - that might be through gaining a qualification or credit of some sort. Equally they might just want a certificate of completion that proves that their work has been noticed. It could be argued that one way of developing engagement and curiosity is to incentivise learners through competitions and prizes and they certainly have their place. It is not necessary to have a carrot and stick approach for all learning programmes, particularly when attention has been given to the issues of relevance but in some circumstances rewards can also help to promote a programme. In some organisations financial incentives are used to encourage self development and bonus payments are allocated for those who progress through the different stages of training. Generally though, financial rewards are not the norm.  Reward can also be fun and inexpensive– as in the example of the training department who went floor walking following a launch and handed out chocolate bars to anyone they found e-learning – word soon got around!

Tip 5 – Communicate continuously

All organisations I have spoken to believe in the necessity to continuously communicate through multiple routes. The Towards Maturity research highlights the different communication resources used to both launch a programme and maintain interest. Email, posters, existing communication routes such as newsletters , intranet, notice board, inserts in pay packets etc  can all provide an opportunity to engage learners and pique their interest.
Tip 6 – Listen & respond

A critical communication skill for marketing learning is to listen. Focus groups to understand learner requirements and to enable them to adapt the learning solutions to respond to changing demand. Focus groups can be used to in the design, implementation and evaluation stages of marketing learning.

The secret however is to respond to the feedback . Keep flexible – be willing to change and don’t forget to communicate the new actions that you have taken.

Tip 7 – Use branding to break down barriers

Using a centralised brand name and building awareness around that brand can be a very effective method for breaking down barriers – many established e-learning implementations, using a range of differing technologies will often refer to the service under a  brand that is significantly easier for the learner to relate to and therefore get involved with.

Tip 8 – Peer recommendation

The second highest influence (after their manager) for learners is recommendation by a peer (training department recommendation was very low on their list of influencers!) To enhance this within your own organisation, find out , celebrate and publish success stories in places that will be read and noticed – via e-mail, on the intranet, in house TV.

Tip 9 – Peer support

Staff who have only experienced self paced e-learning often complain about lack of support - really in this day and age there is NO excuse, even if as tutors you are unable to provide a support network directly, there are lots of ways that you can encourage peer to peer support. You might want to consider how you can use social networks to connect learners with each other. Plus are you aware of groups withing your organisation who might share a common agenda in supporting learning for specfic projects? Union Learning reps are great examples of potential champions hidden in your business!

Tip 10 - Build external reputation for excellence

Many organisations I have spoken to believe that it is really important to build a reputation for success outside of the business which has a knock on effect internally. With the focus on great e-learning awards now, there is no excuse not to get involved. You can find out more about relevant awards here.

 Tip 11 -– Don't be shy

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of face to face communications when communicating learning ( particularly e-learning). Whilst e-mai and the web are ubiquitous media that allow you to get messages out faster, experience has shown consistently that hearts and minds are won face to face!

 For more additional information download the Towards Maturity: insights for employers and training providers - chapter 5 deals specifically with influencing takeup.

Plus check out the tags on managing change, marketing, learner engagement and motivation for related articles and case studies!

This article was originally created by the Work based e-learning project at e-skills UK and is reproduced with kind permission.

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