Do we really understand learner engagement?

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Written by Issy Nancarrow on 13 September 2016

Communicating with learners - Photo credit: Jrg Carstensen / DPA/PA Images

“Engagement’ is a common phrase and a common challenge bounded around in the industry. But what does it really mean? Why is it so important? And how do we ‘make’ learners engaged? Often when I talk about campaign learning and the principles of applying internal marketing techniques, I am asked to focus on engagement.


Following a session at Learning Provider Connect with The Learning and Performance institute (LPI) I have been reflecting on different perceptions of the meaning of engagement and how learning providers attempt to engage learners.

We spent some time passing ideas around tables with providers at the LPI. All these providers had considered engagement, and taken it into the context understood within their field of expertise.

In some cases this was content design, in others it was internal communications. However across the board there was a distinct separation between the learning provision and the central communication streams of the companies using these learning tools.


The distance between learning interventions, through an LMS, application or course by their very nature are separate from the day-to-day functions, communications and operations within the office. This is a significant hurdle when it comes to engaging staff. They need an incentive so enticing that it takes them away from their focus to take part in the learning.

There is a lot learning providers can learn from marketing approaches. Some basic principles such as reducing clicks to reach a course can have a significant difference on engagement levels. This is just one small example of a common problem that is easy to fix.


In the bigger picture, the fundamental principles of marketing skills and tools are aimed at triggering behaviour change.

Perhaps ‘engagement’ isn’t the word we should be using anymore. It is important, but perhaps we focus on it too much and forget the end goal. We want to change behaviours, lengthen retention levels and improve business performance. Engagement is an important part of this process, but it is not the end goal.


About the author 

Issy (Isobel) Nancarrow
 is the Managing Director at Campaign Learning and founder of Nancarrow Partnerships and Campaign Learning. You can contact Issy via


Read more from Issy

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You can speak to Issy in our communication webinar on the 15th September.

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