May 2, 2023

5 research-backed secrets to get employees to engage in learning

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L&D faces an age-old challenge: How the heck do you get employees to prioritize and engage in learning, especially when they're busy with a million other tasks?

Over the last three years, we've been laser-focused on driving engagement, and we've got the stats (70% completion, 70 NPS) to prove it.

Here's what we've learned.

1. Don’t assume you know what people want to learn.

This may seem obvious, but asking your employees what they actually want to learn will correlate with higher demand when you roll out the course.

We survey our students bi-annually to understand what they want to learn, and the most popular courses in our survey – for example, Strategic Planning, Public Speaking, and Writing for Impact – are consistently also the most-enrolled courses when we launch them.

Instead of guessing at what your employees will engage with, conduct a short survey to ask, “Which of the following courses would you be most likely to take this year?”

Note: The courses you prioritize as an L&D leader may not be the courses your employees are most excited about. Check out our breakdown of which skills matter according to L&D vs. employees.

2. Don’t schedule learning on Mondays (but do consider Fridays).

You might think that by Friday, people are done with work and want to take a breather. But actually, we’ve found that course attendance and engagement is highest on Friday mornings, eastern time.

On Friday, employees are generally managing a lighter workload and are more open to activities that demand creativity and free thinking.

One day to absolutely avoid? Monday. Attendance is lowest on Monday because people are catching up from the weekend.

3. Camera-on is better for engagement; camera-off is better for attendance.

In a remote world, the question of “camera on or camera off?” can have a big effect on meetings.

Based on three years of experience, our findings show that asking people to turn their camera on results in more engagement and a greater feeling of connection and community, according to student surveys.

But since not everyone is comfortable turning their camera on, making this request will also result in drop-offs. That’s okay – you don’t want a classroom full of people who aren’t listening, and often, it’s better to sacrifice attendance for a smaller but highly engaged group.

But if you need to prioritize attendance, telling people they can have their camera off will keep a larger group on the call.

4. Set very clear expectations for participation (aka: warn people about breakout rooms).

We’ve found that our courses are most successful when we are crystal clear about the experience at the beginning of the event. The key here is “no surprises.”

This means telling employees:

  • If you want them to have their camera on (see above)
  • If there are going to be breakout rooms or they’re going to have to speak
  • How to set up their workspace to make the most of the time
  • How long you expect each section to take

If you’re going to do breakout rooms or another participation activity, we recommend leaning into the discomfort at the beginning. No one likes the idea of breakout rooms, but they can be incredibly engaging.

Our head of community, Alex W., starts every event with a breakout room this way: “We’re going to have breakout rooms later in the call. I KNOW what you’re thinking – but stay with me. Give us 15 minutes of time in a breakout room, and we promise to make it engaging, exhilarating, and worth your while.”

5. Break up the learning with low-stress moments of engagement.

The best way to keep people engaged on a call? Break up the learning with moments for them to engage and participate – especially ones that feel low-pressure.

Repeat after us: Do not let a speaker monologue for more than 15 minutes without opportunities for the audience to engage.

Here are a few ideas that have worked for us:

  • Ask people to introduce themselves and where they’re dialing in from in the chat
  • Start with a “waterfall question” that relates to the topic you’re discussing (for example, for Public Speaking, you might ask, “What’s your pump-up song before a big meeting?”)
  • Ask people to rename themselves using a name generator (for example, Wu Tang Clan’s name generator for our Public Speaking workshop)
  • Prompt people to answer questions in the chat throughout the presentation
  • Have people complete a short exercise and share their answers in the chat (or, if they’re willing, on camera)

Have other ideas for driving engagement? We’d love to hear them. Email

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Greg Shove
Section Staff