More employees are participating in online training and learning these days, whether as part of the onboarding process, compliance-related training, or learning new skills. While online employee training has been taking place for a long time, the pandemic has provided organizations and their learning and development (L&D) pros with ample opportunity to try new things, identify best practices and learn ways to drive better employee engagement—especially in hybrid workplace settings where some employees may be on-site while other are at home.
Joe Miller, VP of Learning and Strategy at BenchPrep in Chicago, points to LinkedIn’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report, which indicates that 57% of learning and development (L&D) professionals expect to spend more on online learning this year. It is, he says, “online learning’s moment in the sun.”
The pandemic has certainly prompted this growth in online employee training and learning investment. Not just any kind of online training will do, though. To drive better employee engagement in online employee training, organizations must follow some important best practices.
Personalize Online Employee Training
Today’s online training environment is not a one-size-fits-all world. In fact, for the most effective employee engagement with online employee training, personalization is a must, says Miller.
“When it comes to a digital learning environment, it’s easy to see what people know and what they don’t know,” says Miller. “Customizing a learning program reaches a learner early on so they don’t tune out information they need to know,” he says.
Personalization can be efficiently achieved by offering employees multiple options for learning, including a combination of synchronous and asynchronous opportunities, and the ability to proactively seek out information on-demand.
Today’s digitally-savvy employee audience can also be engaged through experiences that mirror their personal tech pursuits.
Consider Gamification to Boost Interest and Interaction
We all know how addictive video games can be, Miller notes. Organizations can capitalize on this by gamifying their online learning opportunities. “Gamification improves learner retention with scoreboards, achievement badges and instant updates,” Miller says. Younger employees, in particular, who have been raised with video game systems in their homes, will be especially drawn to these types of training offerings.
Dr. Irene Williams, a faculty member in Walden University’s Doctor of Business Administration program, agrees that using gaming or simulation learning activities can help keep employees engaged with online training or learning. In addition, she says, it’s important to build in opportunities for interaction in online training or learning.
TalentLMS has data to back up Miller and Williams’ thoughts on the efficacy of gamification for employee engagement: 83% of employees who receive gamified training feel motivated and 89% of employees would spend more time in software that is gamified, their research indicates. In addition, 66% of remote employees consider themselves to be visual learners.
These days, many employees who are still working remotely also crave opportunities for interaction.
Build in Opportunities for Interaction
Online employee training doesn’t have to be static. We’ve come a long way from the days of uniform, asynchronous offerings that often felt impersonal and boring. L&D experience since the start of the pandemic has driven employers to explore ways to build in opportunities for interaction both to boost engagement and to help address feelings of isolation.
“Create opportunities in the training module to interact with other employees,” Williams suggests. “If you have a virtual training session, allow breakout sessions to discuss important topics.”
These interactions can occur before, during or after the training session, both with employees who may be working remotely as well as with employees who are on-site with a blended learning approach.
Take a Blended Learning Approach
“In-person learning can lead to the inherently boring nature of lectures, and online learning can feel isolating,” Miller acknowledges. Blended learning, he says, can bridge this gap. “Blended learning allows learners to pace themselves while familiarizing themselves with key concepts and topics.” The virtual classroom can then be used for discussion and collaboration in the hybrid workplace model, he says.
John Copeland is a Learning and Development technology solutions expert and strategist for Georgia-based visual display leader Barco. “Hybrid work and the flexibility it implies as a future major trend will have multiple company-wide implications,” says Copeland. “It is evident that if the future of work is hybrid, then so is one of successful L&D,” he says. “Considering the demand for flexibility, paired with the need to upskill and reskill employees to prepare them for a digital era impacted by technology, big data and AI, it is more important than ever to ensure successful training outcomes.”
In addition to agreeing that gamification and incentivizing learning can boost engagement, Copeland suggests:
- Integrating online training into the flow of work. He recommends hosting shorter sessions across multiple days or weeks in favor of lengthier programs. This, he says, can “further continuity and retention in environments where employees can’t all be together.”
- Engaging in multiple ways. “Host a mix of live, interactive sessions and pre-recorded ones, along with in-room and remote programs, to accommodate employees’ varying preferred learning styles,” Copeland advises.
- Providing a variety of content formats. Copeland recommends integrating live lectures, team assignments and quizzes with on-demand videos, presentation slides and written materials.
As with any training initiatives, of course, L&D professionals are committed to making sure the value of training is extended back to the workplace.
Keep it Going through Real-World Application
Mark Coster, BSc, PhD, is the owner and Chief Editor of STEM Toy Expert, making him an online business owner with an educator’s background. Coster’s team is entirely remote and has been even pre-COVID. One of the strategies he’s used to boost employee engagement is to create assignments with a workflow that combines several people following course completion.
“One person kick-starts the assignment by performing a subtask or two; once they are done, the next person takes over the following phase, and so on.” Coster puts himself at the end of the line for this process. “The point is to apply this newly acquired knowledge together, so that we collaborate with each other, ask for help and counsel, discuss any issues we may have encountered, and send feedback back and forth,” he says. Most importantly, though, after-course assignments allow for continued engagement through virtual camaraderie, he says.
Sam Kroonenburg, CEO and founder of A Cloud Guru, a cloud training company, agrees that making clear ties back to their work settings is important when training adult learners. “Adult learners crave the application of the material they’re learning to their real-life experiences,” he says. The ability to practice skills learned in a risk-free environment is another way to do this.
For example, if an employee is learning a new cloud technology, allow them to experiment with this technology in a safe environment, like a hands-on lab or sandbox, where they can succeed—and fail—without the pressure of disturbing their company’s own cloud setup,” he suggests. “This will ensure that the employee has a full understanding of the technology before utilizing it in the workplace,” Kroonenburg says.
Today’s online training and learning environment offers a number of ways to ensure employee engagement. As L&D leaders, HR professionals, managers and others gain experience, they can learn from their successes, their missteps, and the experiences and best practices of others. What employee engagement strategies are you using in your online employee training activities?