Increase Engagement in Online Learning – 5 Hacks!

Increase online learning engagement

Often the prospect of having to do something feels like a chore. It’s an obligation, a requirement, a duty. And it’s certainly not inspiring or energising. You’ve probably told employees they must complete some mandatory training or should seek out additional learning opportunities. Perhaps you’re struggling to secure their engagement or aren’t quite sure how to keep them motivated.

What if infrequent engagement could be transformed into a tangible commitment to learning? What if the time for learning they’d begrudgingly scheduled at the end of the month became an appealing daily habit? What if they could actively look forward to focussing on self-development and fresh challenges?

We’ve got five hacks that will help spark inspiration and encourage professional progress, no matter how busy life feels.

Hack 1 – Work in Groups

Part of dedicating yourself to a new approach is holding yourself accountable. Employees may already have a list of commitments that require discipline, and they could enlist like-minded people to support them In achieving their goals. Working as part of a group instils motivation and structure that is distinct from facing something alone. It fills in the gaps when intrinsic motivation is flagging. Indeed outlines how working in a team improves motivation and “promotes dynamic and sustained change”.

As HBR outlines, it’s important to have a platform to “showcase and gather input on the experiments of the week” in order to stay motivated. Think presentations or detailed conversations where “team members share metrics and insights”. It’s important to consider well-being within these interactions, too, as it’s a safe and supportive learning environment you’re looking to create.

It might be tempting for some people to stop pushing themselves midweek when they’re feeling tired, but knowing they’ve committed to meeting colleagues to share what they’ve learned in the past fortnight suddenly changes the landscape. It’s a motivating and dynamic experience to discuss diverse ideas and present what you’ve discovered. Most of all, it keeps everyone persevering in ways they might not be able to do solo. Meeting others is a learning experience in itself, and it’s so valuable to have a platform for sharing new ideas, reinforcing common goals, and making connections.

Hack 2 – Variety

Put simply, there’s more than one way to learn. Encourage employees to explore what works for them and experiment with new methods and platforms. What used to work for some may no longer fit in with their current life and it’s important to move away from being prescriptive. Offer suggestions and outline alternatives. A dense academic book might feel impractical for one colleague, but an audiobook could be ideal for them if they’re constantly on the go. Another colleague might appreciate learning in short bursts and embedding professional development into their daily routine. Video content may appeal on some days for its visual element. Some individuals might appreciate online articles they can read on their commute, but that couldn’t work for someone who drives to work and needs audio content. Listening to podcast-style courses could also be perfect for someone who can be found running, gardening, or walking their dog after work.

Blended learning in the concept of incorporating various mediums into professional development and combining in-person training with online content. As this HBR article highlights, “well-designed virtual learning has been shown to be as effective as in-person learning, and often more so”. We’ve seen life change hugely over the past few years and have adapted to new ways of interacting with colleagues and acquiring knowledge. We can therefore broaden the definitions of learning and combine different formats for the best results. And if learning is embedded in someone’s daily routine, they could start the day with audio content and end it by reading a chapter of a book in bed. The need to be flexible takes priority here. Give employees the autonomy to choose the content they consume and how they enjoy learning. That way, they’re motivating themselves and learning for pleasure.

Hack 3 – Competition

Have you ever met someone who has committed hundreds of days to learning a language via an app? They’ve not only stuck to it but enjoyed the experience and love sharing their progress. The appeal of learning in this way (and staying committed to learning) is in the gamification element. It’s fun, it’s competitive and it’s a perfect example of harnessing extrinsic motivation. Think fantasy football, a sweepstake for Wimbledon, or the joy of an office baking competition. Add a leaderboard that everyone in the team can access and you’ve tapped into incentivising professional development. It’ll get colleagues talking and focusing on the achievements of the week. And, as Indeed highlights, “if you are a senior staff member, you can use fun activities to keep your best employees” and “a well-integrated team that gets along with each other is likely to be productive, efficient and dependable in the long term.”

Colleagues will feel part of something bigger and workplace competitions can be used to bridge any gaps between departments. If employees are enjoying their time at work and building important relationships with colleagues then they’re in a great position to grasp more learning opportunities and engage with training.


Hack 4 – Purpose

Having a shared purpose and a clear direction for learning will certainly help keep employees engaged and motivated. Embed learning goals within appraisals and performance reviews, make it clear what you expect from individuals and encourage them to create a learning plan.

In this article, Marcus Erb cites research by Harvard Business School. He highlighted “the study found that when employees experienced a sense of purpose at work and believed their leaders set a clear direction and expectations (purpose + clarity), those companies outperformed the stock market, achieving returns 6.9% higher than the market”. If we link learning closely to KPIs and company goals, individuals know what is expected of them. Everyone becomes clear about intentions and actions, and the business becomes more successful. You’re adding a why to the how by highlighting to colleagues the exact ways learning impacts their role and the company. Everyone is therefore on the same page and this reinforces collaboration and co-operation. Again, you’re changing the sense of obligation into a fundamental trust in the benefits of learning.


Hack 5 – Make it Happen

You can easily pay lip service to the benefits of learning. You can talk about why it’s important and what it’ll mean for the team. For a bigger shift, you need to create a culture of learning and foster an environment where professional development is a tangible commitment. Your words need to translate into reality: when are employees going to commit time to learning and how are they going to make progress?

Your role is to give individuals the time to learn. Book time out of their calendars, and demonstrate that it’s a commitment for them to stick to long term. In this HBR article, authors Josh Bersin and Marc Zao-Sanders state that “for employees, research now shows that opportunities for development have become the second most important factor in workplace happiness (after the nature of the work itself)”. This is hugely relevant and demonstrates how valuable (and valued) learning is in the workplace. So it’s up to you to make it happen. Speak to colleagues informally about what they’re learning outside of work. Inquire about the podcasts they might be listening to or the books they’ve just finished. Encourage them to send articles to the team or recommend some great audio content. Make it acceptable for learning to become part of the working day. Acknowledge the value of taking time to engage with materials that promote ongoing professional development. And set an example, too. Demonstrate how important learning is and how motivated you are and watch the team’s engagement increase.


Give these hacks a go and you’ll start to find it’s actually fairly simple to keep employees engaged with learning. Introduce some extrinsic motivation and an element of competition, combined with setting the standard for professional development. Take learning seriously yourself, dedicate time to embedding it within the workplace culture, be vocal about the businesses’ learning goals, and keep company objectives at the fore. Employees will thrive on working as a team, sharing ideas, introducing new thoughts, and seeing that you mean what you say when you encourage them to take the time to learn. Keep things fresh and flexible and inconsistent engagement from employees will swiftly transform into a dynamic and motivated workplace designed for learning.


Kezziah Moorhouse is an editor at audio courses company Assemble You. She loves listening out for fresh audio content, getting immersed in podcasts, and hearing about innovative ways to learn.