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More practical tips for engaging learners and managers


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DateMay 23, 2008 Posted by: Laura Overton   Keywords: involving managers, learner engagement, managing change, marketing, measuring value, Motivation

Our research has shown that learners and managers are the most critical stakeholders for success but are the toughest to engage. I recently took part in a workshop for the Learning and Skills group to see how we can improve engagement with these audiences and this article covers a few of the practical ideas that were discussed on the day and additional resources available.

Participant profile

Approximately 90 delegates attended from a range of sectors. They were using learning technologies for a wide range of skills initiatives ( over 50% were using them for mandated learning, IT and induction and over 25% were using them for management and leadership). The main learning technologies in use in the room were online courses and resources but over 30% were also using technology to support learners via virtual classrooms and similar. Most had been using learning technologies for a few years.

Engaging learners and their managers - What are the challenges?

The challenges in engaging line managers included conflicting approaches and views amongst managers; no time; lacking in confidence (– don’t want to be shown up); learning is not a priority; their need to focus on their ‘proper job’; they don’t understand their role to play; promotion of ‘do-ers’ in the organisation to management means lack of awareness of people development needs.

The challenges for engaging learners included cultural issues in the work place (lack of time); fear of technology; churn of staff; generation gap; programmes perceived to be irrelevant; concern about ‘big brother’ watching; lack of motivation; lack of perceived value; IT infrastructure.

By identifying these challenges, we can start to break down the giant problem of engagement and focus on the priority areas for these organisations.

Successful learning intervention – what does success look like?

We often know what success looks like for us but do we know what success looks like for our audiences that we need to engage?

In the workshop, we spent some time putting ourselves in our audience shoes. For learners we believed that success might include the following:

  • Learning is easy to get to
  • I will be able to do something better in my job as a result
  • I will be more confident
  • I can progress my career/improve job security
  • I will be recognised (certificate or qualification)
  • This represents good value for the time given
  • This is fun, fast, and efficient

For managers success is more likely to be defined as:

  • This delivers me business results (impacts my personal targets)
  • This will help my team achieve more
  • This will reduce the turn over in my team
  • This will alter behaviour
  • This will allow my team to change for the better

In our engagement process with key audiences – are we asking the right questions? Are we communicating using the right language? Do our current communications/web sites reflect L&D language and successes or our audiences?

Two learner challenges – the time starved and the disengaged

The group brainstormed some ideas for engaging learners with 2 specific challenges – here are some of their ideas:

Tips for engaging time starved learners:

  • Present learning in byte sized chunks
  • Be flexible on time access
  • Provide performance support ( in context)
  • Make sure content is interesting/relevant
  • Are courses the right way for everything? – using better informal resources, Google 
  • Using new technologies – mobile, podcasts in the car 
  • Provide some time management training!

Tips for engaging disillusioned learners included:

  • Ask why disillusioned – what caused their previous bad experience - and fix it!
  • Listen to learners – don’t force them to do something if it is blatantly bad
  • Integrating technologies better with the way they do their work
  • Look for early engagement/ownership ( eg learners involved in design process)
  • Reward performance not just attendance
  • Use success stories from peers

Participant tips for demonstrating success:

Good practice from towards maturity research highlighted the importance of demonstrating value back to your audience. The workshop participants had the following tips to offer:

  • Ask managers about their definition of success and their own targets and how they are measured? Can these provide baseline data that can be compared before and after the intervention?
  • Work with managers to align learning to business needs
  • Work with managers as mentors – get them involved in applying the learning to their business issue.
  • Capture and communicate manager’s and learners perceptions of change
  • Feed success to higher management and let them communicate to their reports/trickle down
  • Use existing systems such as balance score cards

In conclusion

The majority of the tips from this event were focussed on getting learners and managers involved in the process of learning design up front, listening to them, understanding their needs, language and motivation; communicating with them in meaningful ways and constantly looking for ways to demonstrate value of learning solutions back to them.

Additional resources

Case studies on TowardMaturity.org include:

Priory Group
Royal Caribbean

• Additional resources:

Articles - Top 10 tips for communicating with learners and Engaging Line Managers with e-learning
Research  - Chapter 5 – influencing take-up of Towards Maturity Insights report
Podcasts- Aligning learning with business need with Gordon Bull

See other articles and resources on Learner engagement, Marketing, Managing Change and Strategy

Also do complete our minipoll.

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