Blog Post

5 Evidence-Based Ways to Increase Learner Engagement

Dr. Michelle Ellis
October 17, 2023
Learning Science Intellum

The goal of customer education is to achieve business outcomes by helping customers change their behavior around your product. And we often do that through methods like virtual instructor-led training and eLearning. 

But we can’t achieve those outcomes if customers aren’t engaged with learning. Thus, learner engagement plays a key role in successful customer education programs.

We’ve dug into the research to understand what supports and drives learner engagement—so you can apply those insights to your customer education program.

5 Evidence-Based Ways to Increase Learner Engagement

While some believe that eLearning is inferior to, or less effective than, in-person learning, the research shows that’s not so1! It’s just a matter of choosing the right methods and being intentional about keeping learners engaged. Here are a few ways to do that:

1. Make it fun.

When we find things to be fun, we more readily engage with them. A study on informal, on-the-job learning found that when employees considered activities fun, they were more likely to engage in informal learning and peer learning2.

Just because something takes place asynchronously or even teaches a boring topic doesn't mean it can't be fun. Look at how the Gusto Academy team brought accounting content to life as part of their education program. 

2. Incentivize learning.

Incentivizing learning doesn't mean offering a gift card or similar for completion. It means understanding what motivates people to learn and using that to engage them.

Research has found that learners find gamified learning more motivating than a traditional course3. A proper gamified learning strategy takes into account multiple types of motivations and uses those to encourage engagement. 

3. Leverage the power of community.

Learning is inherently a social activity. We learn by watching, doing, and getting feedback.

With the rise in online education, educators have been investigating different ways of encouraging this social interaction for both engagement and knowledge retention4. Formats like social learning, collaborative learning, and community-based learning are popular for adult learning in work contexts (as is the case for learning and development and customer education). 

4. Encourage learning during traditional hours. 

We live in a busy world. Try planning an activity with a friend or colleague outside of work hours, and you will likely spend quite some time finding a mutually agreeable time.

It's no surprise that these traditional working hours also impact our learning. One study found that working or learning during non-standard times negatively affects intrinsic motivation5

If you're in customer education, you likely schedule training sessions during the work day. But consider your client base; if they're global, you may be scheduling VILT outside of their working hours, potentially decreasing their focus and engagement. 

5. Factor in emotional intelligence.

We've been hearing more about the role of psychological safety in the work environment. This concept of having a safe space applies to learning, too6

Whether your focus is internal or external education, consider introducing content that helps learners, trainers, and other employees build their emotional intelligence, or EQ. This increased EQ can lead to an environment where people feel safe to open up, ask questions, and learn at a deeper level. 

Continue Reading

Want to dive deeper into topics related to learner engagement? Check out the following blogs:

Referenced Articles

1. Paul, J. and Jefferson F., Frontiers in Computer Science, (2019). A Comparative Analysis of Student Performance in an Online vs. Face-to-Face Environmental Science Course From 2009 to 2016.

2. Tews, M., Michel, J., and Noe, R., Journal of Vocational Behavior, (2017). Does fun promote learning? The relationship between fun in the workplace and informal learning.

3. Chapman, J. and Rich, P., Journal of Education for Business, (2018). Does educational gamification improve students’ motivation? If so, which game elements work best?

4. Shea, P., ResearchGate, (2006). A study of students’ sense of learning community in online environments.

5. Giurge, L. and Woolley, K., Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, (2022). Working during non-standard work time undermines intrinsic motivation.

6. Thomas, C. and Allen, K., Journal of Further and Higher Education, (2020). Driving engagement: investigating the influence of emotional intelligence and academic buoyancy on student engagement.

About the Author

Dr. Michelle Ellis Speaker Headshot
Dr. Michelle Ellis
Director of Learning & Development
Michelle Ellis has over 25 years of experience in instructional design, including nearly 20 years at Disney, and a PhD in Training and Performance Improvement.. Her experience ranges from teaching in the academic setting to designing, developing, and facilitating education to teach technical, soft, and leadership skills. Michelle came to Intellum as a practitioner to share her experiences with learning and how to build a learning strategy.