Learner Engagement: Three key tips to increase it

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For decades employee development has been about leading and instructing, the ‘top down’ approach. Then, about 10 years ago, L&D teams began a revolution, realising there is another way. Now, modern learning technology is widely oriented to this model. Employee development has become about supporting learners to follow their own path, one that suited their needs and desires. It has been a switch from a pedagogical approach to an andragogical approach (more on that later). But, many have hit the same problem, low learner engagement.

Learner engagement

A sense of achievement

Can you remember that feeling when you finally rode your bicycle down the street without falling off? Or when you finally did your first length at the local swimming pool? That sense of achievement is incomparable and it’s likely what spurred you on to learn more, do more and further improve. Achievement isn’t a certificate,  it’s a feeling, and for many it’s what we’ve lost in workplace training and development.


Many became so fixated on increasing knowledge, they lost sight of aligning that knowledge with real-world goals and tangible outcomes. What about the feeling you get when you finally resolve a customer issue on your own? or when you make your first sale?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could use digital mechanisms to provide holistic learning experiences that help deliver that feeling of achievement? Wouldn’t it be great if it wasn’t simply about consuming content but actually developing capability?

That’s exactly what’s happening at the forefront of employee training. How? By taking the best bits of pedagogy and infusing them into andragogy.

Andragogy vs. pedagogy

You may have heard of pedagogy. It’s a term often thrown around, sometimes incorrectly, and quite literally means leading (gogy) children (peda). Andragogy, on the other hand, means leading adults (andra). They refer to the different approaches required when teaching children versus adults. However, today, maybe the lines between them need to blur a little.

What’s the difference? 

In pedagogy, learning is entirely directed by the teacher and their expertise as the learner traditionally has little or no experience to draw on. It’s that top down approach we mentioned at the start of this blog.

The responsibility for how learning is approached and assessed lies solely with the teacher. The motivation for pedagogical learning is often based on a simplistic reward system of grades or points and positive feedback or praise from the teacher. The excitement for the learner comes in large part from this reward and praise but also from the curiosity of exploring something entirely new.

Conversely, with andragogy the responsibility for learning shifts almost entirely from the teacher to the learner. It’s that L&D revolution that happened a decade ago. The learner is invited to direct their own learning, decide on the best approach, draw on their past experiences and often self-evaluate their progress to identify gaps they need to fill. The motivation for andragogical learning is, therefore, internal and driven by a need to do and feel better at work.

Meeting in the middle

On the face of it, this may all sound entirely appropriate. Children need strong direction, while adults are self-motivated, self-aware and driven to succeed for their own self-esteem. But as we now know there are problems with both.

The issue, particularly with digital learning in employee training, is learner engagement and motivation. How motivated are your employees to engage with your digital training? How aware are they of their knowledge gaps? And how driven are they to succeed, particularly when learning remotely?

This is when andragogy in employee development can take a few lessons from pedagogy. It’s time to capture a true sense of achievement that will spur your employees on to excel. Here’s how:

Three pedagogical tips to boost learner engagement

  1. Direction

Employee development, as with most adult learning, is self-directed. The onus is on the learner to show up, engage and complete tasks. However,  incorporating a certain level of direction can make a big difference.

Coaches, mentors and subject matter experts have valuable experience to offer in setting the direction of learning in terms of context. Context ensures relevancy and relevancy boosts employee motivation to learn. After all, when an employee can apply their learning to resolve their day-to-day challenges, a genuine sense of achievement is sure to follow.

So, be sure to lean on your subject matter colleagues when designing development materials and programs. Encourage them to shape and direct the learning journey with regard to the ‘why’ this content is important and how it is relevant. On.Board makes engaging SMEs easy with it’s simple interface, you won’t need specific technical skills to easily customise development programs.

  1. Feedback

In pedagogy, feedback is a constant presence and often immediate. Learners aren’t left waiting until the end of the year to find out if they’ve been doing well or not. Teachers guide learners throughout the year, highlighting areas for improvement and praising progress.

Your employees similarly need regular, constructive and specific feedback on their development. This helps raise the bar across your team, pushing forward both those who may be struggling and those who have the aptitude to go further. After all, how do you feel when you receive meaningful feedback? positive? appreciative? supported? and maybe engaged?

But meaningful feedback requires observable action to trigger it. On.Board has feedback mechanisms built into the platform but also facilitates the ‘actions’ that trigger meaningful feedback. We’re talking about learning journeys that include video roleplay tasks. We’re talking about inviting learners to upload video evidence into a social gallery for peer-to-peer and mentor feedback i.e. feedback from ‘meaningful others’. For every task completed, On.Board provides the option to require mentor approval and prompt meaningful feedback through customised forms to boost learner engagement.

  1. Evaluation

Self-reflection is a key component of development, a learner being able to consider their own development and what should come next often signals high potential. However, self-reflection that results in actionable change may be helped by objective input from others. By shifting the balance of evaluation towards pedagogy, your coaches and mentors can take an active role in directing learners to plan their next steps.

On.Board’s Performance Hub connects learners with their support group (coaches, mentors, managers and subject matter experts). Individuals in this network can prompt learners to reflect on a given training task and feedback on their reflections to help turn them into beneficial action.

Times are changing

The way we develop our employees and teach our children is changing. Pedagogy and andragogy are finding a new equilibrium.

In the UK, the nation’s educational regulator Ofsted is placing greater emphasis on development, behavior and quality of education, rather than exams alone, something that is sure to raise learner engagement. Schools are tasked with raising successful adults who will thrive in the world. Similarly, leading businesses are now focused on developing successful employees who will thrive in their organization.

This is about more than teaching ‘use it or lose it’ skills or building a knowledge base. This is about helping people become ‘better learners’. This is a capability that will stay with them and enable them not only to improve the performance of your organization but realize their own development aspirations – which is surely the intent of an andrological approach!

It is the dawn of what Learning Analyst Josh Bersin calls the Capability Academy. More on this in our next blog.


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