Are You Measuring Learner Engagement Wrong?

measuring learner engagement

You’ve spent weeks or months developing a new online course, and you’re delighted to see that learner engagement levels are through the roof! You carefully considered the learning objectives, agonized over content design, and tried to make the flow and assessments interesting. Course adoption rates and completion rates are high and it seems to be working for your learners.

That’s a win, right?

Maybe not.

The problem with measuring learner engagement is twofold:

  1. Just because a learner completed the course does not mean they enjoyed the learning experience or found it valuable
  2. Learner engagement in the moment is one thing, but are they applying what they learned? Does the course actually move the needle in terms of performance?

It’s essential not to become blinded by vanity metrics and to dig deeper into learner engagement, from what it means to how you measure it. So, how engaged are your learners? And what benefit is that engagement bringing to the organization?

What is learner engagement?

Learner engagement is the tracking and measurement of a learner’s participation in an individual course or a learning program in its entirety.

L&D teams use learner engagement metrics to track the success of their learning programs and to test whether their course design practices are resonating with the learning population of the organization. 

What are some common metrics for measuring learner engagement?

Many learner engagement metrics focus on the quantity of a learner’s participation in various learning programs. But it’s equally important to measure the quality of their participation, too.

In fact, it’s arguable that the qualitative aspect of learner engagement is far more important than the quantity. Would you rather an employee took only three courses per year but truly benefited from them? Or a learner who clicks through a different course every week but cannot, or will not, apply the learning to improving their performance?

Examples of quantitative learner engagement metrics include:

  • Course completion rates
  • Assessment results
  • Course adoption rates
  • Frequency of engagement with learning experiences
  • Results from learner feedback forms or questionnaires

But, once you look below the surface, you’ll see that these metrics for measuring learner engagement aren’t telling you very much at all. 

learner engagement

What learner engagement metrics do you need?

That’s not to say that those metrics should be completely dismissed. But they should certainly be taken with a pinch of salt and should be used in conjunction with a more qualitative appraisal of your learning program.

Sometimes, you just need to look beyond the hard numbers to get a real picture of your learner engagement: 

Mandatory Training Vs. Voluntary Learning

For starters, it’s vital to look beyond mandatory courses. Thousands of learners might take a mandatory compliance course, but that tells L&D very little about how engaging the experience is or how much impact your learning program is having on performance. 

So, when you’re measuring learner engagement by adoption rate or frequency, take mandatory courses out of the equation. How many of your learners are voluntarily taking courses to help them with their day-to-day role? And how frequently are they doing so?

Extra-Curricular Learning

Learning takes place in a myriad of locations, settings, and environments within the workplace. Now, more than ever, much of that type of learning is taking place online.

If you have a learning forum, an intranet where employees share information and ideas, or any other type of online social setting where learners interact, this type of engagement metric is as important as any other. Not only does it show that learners are engaged, but it can help you measure how embedded a culture of learning is within your organization as a whole. 

Training Bootleggers

While it’s frustrating when employees circumvent learning and development to create training of their own, it’s actually not a bad problem to have.

What indicates an engaged community of learners more than a group who take matters completely into their own hands in order to learn what they feel they need to learn? 

This may be more of a qualitative engagement metric than one you can put a hard number on, but if you’re regularly discovering terrible powerpoint sessions masquerading as team training, don’t be discouraged. Instead, see the opportunity for what it is: a group of highly motivated learners just waiting for you to step in and help them create truly effective training solutions.

Moving Beyond Learner Engagement

Measuring learner engagement is not the final frontier for L&D. Tracking the success of your training team’s efforts begins and ends with overall organizational performance.

Did the sales department achieve record numbers last quarter? Amazing! But you better be able to prove how the L&D program contributed to that organizational milestone. That means working closely with business partners on a continuous basis to identify training needs and create learning experiences that really impact the bottom line. 

Learn how one company increased learner engagement by 80% by overhauling their entire training program:
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