How to improve learner engagement

How to imporove learner engagement

The way we work has changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, employers are looking to embrace hybrid ways of working. 

Here we outline ways to keep employees engaged with learning as they work in more hybrid ways.

The switch to hybrid working

 As lockdown rules start to ease in the UK, employers are looking at the best ways to get work done. Pre Covid-19, that tended to be in an office but that has changed. The pandemic showed employers that workers could work from home effectively and that they liked it. Recent research from Microsoft shows that 56% of workers surveyed are happier working from home and 57% say they have a better work-life balance. And nearly one in five would not choose to go back to the office to work once restrictions have been lifted.

This hybrid approach to work looks like the way forward for many employers. If it suits employees better and means reduced overheads in terms of office space, then hybrid looks like a great approach. Add climate change into the mix and hybrid provides a way for employers to reduce carbon emissions through less office use and commuting to and from work.

Employers are currently grappling with the finer detail of hybrid working arrangements, but it looks as if employees will be working from home with a certain amount of office time. Research from the Capgemini Institute shows that 45% of employees think they will spend three days or more per week from a remote location going forward.

Despite the fact many employees say they prefer a hybrid approach, there are challenges facing employees working from home.

A survey of 3,000 remote workers from across the UK, commissioned by hownow, shows that this way of working has its downsides:

  • 67% of workers in the UK feel ‘disconnected’ from their colleagues.
  • 42% feel ‘lonely’ at work.
  • 80% have spoken to their manager just once in the last 10 days.
  • 49% admit this is having a negative impact on how they view their job.
  • 32% say it’s having a negative impact on their mental health.

These insights lay bare the learner engagement challenge. If your employees are feeling this way, then can you realistically expect them to be open, curious and motivated to learn and improve how they work?

It is important for learning teams to understand this context. Engagement will develop when some of the key drivers, such as trust, are in place. For example, research from the ADP Research Institute into resilience and engagement shows that a worker is 14 times more likely to be fully engaged if he or she trusts their team leader. Contrast this with the figure above showing 80% have spoken to their manager just once in the last 10 days and you can see where organisations need to focus in order to build engagement.

Learning in a hybrid working environment

The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated changes that were already taking place in corporate learning. This has seen learning move away from face to face and online event-based learning to something that is continuous and a part of work, what learning analyst Josh Bersin calls ‘learning in the flow of work’. Covid-19 made this a digital-first approach to learning as employees were forced to work from home.

This digital first, learning in the flow of work approach requires organisations to have a learning technology platform that provides an easy to use, agile approach to curating and deploying shorter, more bite-sized learning resources. 

Your technology platform also needs to provide data and insights that can help you understand where the demand is for your resources. Learning in the flow of work is a paradigm shift away from centralised control of learning to an employee-driven, demand led model. To build learner engagement in this environment you need data and insights to understand employee need and a platform to quickly deploy relevant resources in the right way and to the right people.

Improve learner engagement in the hybrid workplace

In recent weeks and months we have been sharing our insights on the different elements that make up learner engagement. Here we summarise our findings. We also link off to our original articles, so please dig deeper if you need to.

 As we mentioned earlier, there are bigger engagement challenges facing all organisations as a result of the pandemic. These need to be understood and tackled in order to build engagement around learning.

Learning culture

A learning culture enables organisations to continuously learn, adapt and thrive. In order to build a learning culture the learning team has to play its part in the following ways:

  • Align L&D activity with the strategic goals of the organisation
  • Develop a learning strategy that can respond to changing business needs
  • Provide clear communication around L&D planning and impact
  • Ensure the L&D team understands the strategic goals of the business
  • Agree a clear plan and agreed performance indicators for the learning team
  • Actively encouraging people to collaborate in building knowledge resources
  • Include employees in the design of learning interventions
  • Make job aids and resources easily accessible
  • Recommend resources based on an individual’s performance.


In its report Building inclusive workplaces: assessing the evidence, the CIPD urges people professionals to:

“Consider inclusion from an individual and organisational perspective, and how the two influence each other. Allowing all employees to develop, participate and use their voices to influence important decision-making can affect how members of the workforce experience and perceive inclusion at an individual level.”

“Make inclusion relevant to all employees. Ensure that employees understand that inclusion is about how we relate to and work with others in the business. This means that inclusion not only impacts everyone in their role but that it is everyone’s responsibility to act in an inclusive way.” 

If diversity and inclusion is important to your organisation then you need to show it. By showing the organisation’s commitment to it, the organisation makes itself accountable. And that accountability builds trust.

For example, our client Spirit Energy, an oil and gas challenger brand worked with internal employee influencers who ran internal networks such as the LGBTQ+ network to create and share playlists (which were available on the 5app) relevant to their communities. This approach helped support those internal communities, amplified their voices, gave them a safe space to be authentic and a sense of belonging within the organisation, central to creating an inclusive culture.

Best formats

To build engagement, learning resources need to be relevant and in a format that is easy to consume and use. That means mixing formats such as video, infographics and audio with more commonly used text-based formats such as articles and elearning. Curation is a powerful way to mix up formats to build engagement (see below).

Virtual team working

As the hownow research we mentioned earlier shows, employees can feel lonely and disconnected as a result of working apart from colleagues. To overcome this, learning teams need to be able to support leaders, managers and their teams in becoming effective at working virtually as a team.

This requires L&D to work with leaders to establish a vision for remote working, enable autonomy to drive learner engagement, nurture managers and support wellbeing. Effective communication to the team and within the team are key to building engagement (see below).


Curation is concerned with gathering, sense-making and sharing information for a defined audience and need. It really took off for organisations as a result of the pandemic. Curating resources on specific topics can be a lot quicker and cheaper than creating them from scratch. Lockdown led to workers requiring urgent help with working from home and their wellbeing and curation provided one the most effective way to meet their needs.

Now is the time to build on this success and put curation at the heart of your learning and engagement strategy. Here are five tips to help do this:

  1. Understand your audience
  2. Understand their information needs
  3. Understand how and when to share resources
  4. Analyse data to understand impact and what works
  5. Start small, then scale


Playlists are the perfect way to present curated resources. They are short lists of resources on a specific topic, aimed at a specific audience. Humans like lists and we like grouping things, which is why playlists are such an effective way to present information. They also enable learning teams to easily mix up formats, which is important for engaging employees.  


Communication is at the heart of building learner engagement. How else will employees know what resources are there to help them? At 5app we have created what we call the three pillars of agile learning. They are:

  1. Development
  2. Knowledge
  3. Communication 

Communication connects people with each other, to knowledge and their development and to the wider organisation. Communication is active and the opportunity here is for learning teams to become proactive in supporting employees based on their needs. This is about shifting from a reactive function to always listening out for what employees need and quickly responding to that.


Learning teams cannot force employees to engage with learning content. And at a time when there continues to be so many forces affecting how and where work is done, learning teams must understand that there are a range of factors – not all in their control – that can negatively impact on engagement.

That said, many learning teams have found that lockdown has provided them with an opportunity to use curation to rapidly deploy resources at the point of need. This has helped build learner engagement around the topics employees needed help with and this approach can do the same again. By building on this curated approach, and considering the factors outlined in this article, L&D teams can build greater engagement with learning as employees shift to more hybrid ways of working.

Use a platform that supports your new ways of working and learning. 5App can help in supporting your L&D strategy, creating a learning culture, and in aligning learning with the business needs and objectives.

Get in touch to find out more.


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