How participation and collaboration boost employee engagement

By Matt Linaker

When you think of your own training and development, do you feel actively engaged and involved in deciding what and how you learn? For many of us the answer is complex. Formal training is essential and can be a great experience. However, for many people, their interaction with training content may stop once they’ve completed the work the L&D department has given them. But learning shouldn’t have limits. We have quicker and easier access to more information than ever before, and with access to so much information, there’s always an opportunity to learn more, grow and get better at our jobs.

If we want to stay engaged and continually improve our performance at work, then it’s essential that we have the opportunity to take an active role in our own learning. Too often employees have little to no influence on the type of content that training departments offer. When people are not involved in any of the decisions surrounding the content of their training it can lead to the disengagement and the pacification of an employee. 

To take a truly learner-centric focus on training and development it’s important that learners are at the heart of deciding what is relevant and meaningful to them. Learners need to have an active role in deciding which content should help to inform themselves and their peers. 

A smiling male employee engaging with a smiling female employee

Moving from surface learning to deep learning

Ideally, adult learners will take a deep approach to learning. Engaged learners will reflect on the training content that they interact with and they'll question it. Learners who take a deep approach to learning will make connections between ideas and seek out new, connected content, whereas learners who only participate in surface-level learning will do little more than consume training content like entertainment. Learners who only take a surface-level approach to their own training are likely to become dissatisfied and ultimately disengaged with their own professional development. 

Often in L&D, we hear phrases like the "Netflix of learning" as if it’s a sort of holy grail of learning technologies. Entertainment tools such as Netflix are so prevalent that they can have a tendency to shape our educational tools and bend them to be something that they really shouldn’t be. 

If we want our people to be truly engaged and to develop deep learning skills then they need to participate and contribute, not consume. Learning isn’t about consumption. It requires active reflection, and action! We don’t want passive learners just as we don’t want passive colleagues and employees! 

How can we facilitate deep learning?

Learning can happen anywhere, and useful content is everywhere. To ensure learners take a deep approach to learning our educational tools need to allow teams to find resources they deem to be valuable and share them with their peers. Nothing that’s educational in nature should be off limits. Articles, blogs, podcasts, videos, journals - in fact, all forms of media - can help influence, develop and inform teams decisions on how to act and what work to prioritize in their roles. And when content isn’t already available learners should be able to create their own content and easily share new content with their peers. Making videos with phones and laptops is easier than ever before and when subject matter experts can upload their own videos, learners get access to relevant content when they need it most. While polished, professional videos have their place, so does user-generated content that can be produced quickly and cheaply by subject matter experts who know best. Mitchells & Butlers' employees create videos of themselves creating new cocktails or recipes to help their hospitality colleagues learn, which is proving hugely successful.

Our aim should be to design learning spaces which allow learners to upload and share any content that can help them develop and improve. By allowing learners to contribute to spaces with a set of resources around a particular topic or project then we’re starting to facilitate deep learning. 

Social learning helps employees remain engaged

Working and learning in isolation has been found to be disengaging. When MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) and COOCs (Corporate Open Online Courses) first started happening they were seen as revolutionary. Never before had learners had access to structured high-level content that they could access from anywhere. While uptake in these types of courses was extremely high, they also had very high dropout rates with many learners not completing the training. Many learners cited the lack of support from tutors and peers as a core reason for lacking engagement and dropping out. Think about exercising, it’s always easier to go for a run or get to the gym if we know someone else is going to go with us. It’s the same with learning, which is why we need our tools to have social spaces where learners feel recognized for their contributions.

By adding social elements to our learning tools we ensure learners are able to feel part of something bigger than their own personal development. Learners become part of a community where they can contribute to both their own personal development and their colleagues'. 

So, by adding social learning elements to our training tools we encourage engagement in two ways:

  1. We foster deeper learning by allowing learners to connect ideas and share resources. By building on content that another peer has added, learners make connections and can learn more effectively than in isolation. 
  2. We ensure individuals feel part of something bigger and feel part of a learning community. 

Business moves fast. So should learning

It’s hard for learning and development teams to stay on top of everything that teams need to learn. Getting others in the business to share the load of curating and uploading essential information is a surefire way to get everyone on the same page quickly so that they can get back to focusing on the task at hand. 

Stay engaged the Totara way

Fortunately, at Totara, we think all of these components are essential to a modern learning experience, which is why we’ve made Totara Engage. With Totara Engage, individuals and teams will be able to: 

  • Work collaboratively to feel part of a community 
  • Share content and connect ideas to facilitate deep learning 
  • Link to interesting content from external sources 
  • Feel recognized for their contributions and remain motivated to contribute more