Learner engagement is more than a learner’s interactions during the training. It begins before the learning experience and continues after it's over. Training and Learning Manager Tiffany McLean, from law firm Warner Norcross + Judd LLP, shares some ways to increase learner engagement to improve training results.
Listen to Tiffany's Powered by Learning interview on Developing Training with Diversity and Inclusion in Mind.
About Warner Norcross + Judd:
Warner Norcross + Judd is a corporate law firm with more than 230 attorneys practicing in nine offices throughout Michigan.
Powered by Learning earned an Award of Distinction in the Podcast/Audio category from The Communicator Awards and a Silver Davey Award for Educational Podcast. The podcast is also named to Feedspot's Top 40 L&D podcasts and Training Industry’s Ultimate L&D Podcast Guide.
Learn more about d'Vinci at www.dvinci.com.
Susan Cort: You have created an important training session. You love it but will your learners, and how do you build interest in learning in advance and engage your learners during training?
Tiffany McLean: I do listen to my learners, I’m always curious, I’m always asking questions, and then always trying to think of creative ways to get my learners engaged.
Susan: That’s Tiffany McLean, Training and Learning Manager at Warner, Norcross & Judd. Tiffany says learners need to know what’s in it for them. In this episode, she shares the best ways to increase learner engagement. Powered by Learning is next.
Speaker 1: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. d’Vinci’s approach to learning is grounded in 30 years of innovation and expertise. We use proven strategies and leading technology to develop solutions that empower learners to improve quality and boost performance. Learn more at d’Vinci.com. [01:00]
Susan: I’m joined today by Angeline Evans, our Client Solutions Consultant at d’Vinci. Hi, Angeline.
Angeline: Hi Susan.
Susan: I’m really looking forward to chatting with Tiffany McLean about learner engagement today.
Angeline: Me too, I am so excited to hear what tips she has and help our listeners see that learner engagement is more than just the interactivity or the activities you have going on in the classroom. It’s the whole kit and caboodle from getting them to show up to making them feel like it’s worth it while they’re there and carrying it back to their job.
Susan: Absolutely. It’s such an important topic and that’s why we’re excited to welcome back to Powered by Learning, Tiffany McLean. Hi Tiffany.
Tiffany: Hi Susan, it’s great to be back.
Susan: Aw, thank you, thanks for joining us. When we first talked to you, it was very early on, on Powered by Learning and you shared about the importance of DE&I and Learning which was so important. We’re glad to have you back again, and for our listeners, just give them a little bit about your background.
Tiffany: Well, I have been in the L&D space for about 15 years [02:00] now, a little over 15 years actually. And I really have a passion for employee development and leadership development, and most importantly, strategic planning. Really once you put those three pieces together, I really find that organizations really hit their stride and do really good work in the learning space.
Angeline: Thanks Tiffany, I’m so excited to chat with you. Let’s just dive right in. At the most foundational level, learner engagement means meeting your audience’s needs. How do you gather that information? You mentioned being really interested in strategy and planning, so what sort of information do you gather up front to help you shape your program?
Tiffany: So, actually I do a couple of things. I do Learner Needs survey actually every two years in my organization, to make sure that any programming that I do put together is the program that people actually want to see, And then I also take time with each of our different departments and I try to put together Learner Personas, so that I can know exactly who [03:00] my audience is based on department. Because every department may have a different need, they may have different personalities, different outlooks on their job and on how they learn best.
Angeline: Can you tell me a little bit more about those Learner Needs surveys, for listeners that might not be familiar with it, what type of questions do you ask?
Tiffany: I ask a wide variety of questions, from just basic demographic information; how long have you been with the organization, what topics are important to you as a learner? And that’s really the question I spend the most time focusing on. I also ask questions about how do you learn best? You know, some people are very tactile, some people are like, “Hey just give me a headset and I can listen to a podcast and figure it all out on my own.” Some people want to watch a video. I ask those types of questions to make sure that when I’m producing content that people have exactly what they need when they need it.
Susan: You also mentioned the learner personas Tiffany. How do you put those together, and also how do you use them to form what kind of learning that you do?
Tiffany: When I put together [04:00] the learner personas, I actually sit with different people, different departments, one on one and I kind of watch them do their job. I then ask them questions specific to their role. For example, in a law firm, one of the questions I may ask a legal assistant may be something to the effect of, what type of news do you watch? And it may seem like a silly question that has nothing to do with their job, but really those outside influences have a huge impact on how I deliver information to our firm.
Angeline: So you’re gathering their likes and wants and needs. After you put together their preferences, what do you do to get their buy-in into the program? So, you have that information, what next steps so to speak?
Tiffany: So generally, once I have put the learner personas together, I share that with their leadership team to make sure, hey this is what I gathered, does this feel like it’s on point, or am I way off on this?
Angeline: You said you meet with their leadership to validate their response, [05:00] that’s probably a great opportunity to engage those senior leaders. Do you find that that helps them champion the program you’re creating and getting the learners to want to attend and feel the importance of it, so that buy-in aspect?
Tiffany: Most definitely. You know, that’s the one thing that I really enjoy about doing learner personas, because once they’re involved in that, they want to see what is the final result of this activity that I helped someone else with, right? And having their leaders involved in that, it does the same thing. So the leader then continues to promote those sessions. Like, “Hey, remember Susie, you sat with Tiffany and you went through a learner persona exercise. That information is going to be included in the session that she’s having in a couple of weeks, so you may want to go ahead and go log into our LMS and sign up for that session.” So, it just gives me more avenues to reach all of our learners.
Susan: It must be kind of hard too, just thinking about you know, everyone is so different and how they like to learn is so different, how do you use all that information that you gather up front [06:00] to try to meet the learner where he or she lives? How do you do that when everybody’s needs are so different?
Tiffany: What I try to do is really get a composite of all of that information and kind of merge it all together. And say, OK, so generally in this particular department, for example, the average age is 35 they have two kids. So, that information helps me to really think about what do they have time for, what is really their true band-with? Is this something that they are going to be able to go home and complete, is it something that they’re going to only have the opportunity to complete in the office? Because you know, if you have a couple of kids at home, coming home and taking that time out is probably not going to happen, unless I create a shorter program or shorter course for them where they can take five to seven minutes as they hide in their bathroom from their kids to develop their skills.
Angeline: What techniques do you use to show the learner what’s in it for them before they attend the program, [07:00] so that it will really increase that registration?
Tiffany: Well, really I consider myself to be a part-time marketer. What I do is I create wonderful, very vibrant invitations that are sent out via email generally the week before a session begins. I send out another reminder of that session. So you saw it, you got busy, but hey here’s your reminder again, go ahead and sign up. And I make sure that it’s at the times that are best suited for them. That’s where that Learner Needs survey then comes back into play. I’ve discovered at our law firm the best times to hold trainings are Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays. No one has time on Mondays and no one wants to do it on Fridays. And the best time then… so I’ve narrowed down my days, now the best times are either lunchtime or 2:00 in the afternoon. So I take all of that into account when I’m putting forth any program where I’m going to need them to actually physically get up and participate. Because it’s important that I know when they’re available so I’m not a “nuisance” to them and interfering with their work, [08:00] they see it as something that they want to do. It’s not something that’s disrupting their day, it’s something that they’ve already said, “Hey these are the best times, this is the best format.” I listen to them and then I plan accordingly.
Angeline: And does the majority of the training that you put on, is that typically online training, or live synchronous training in a classroom, or virtually?
Tiffany: It’s generally either live via Zoom, or it’s online. With the online sessions it’s a little different because they’re able to take those whenever they like, but when it’s a Zoom session, that’s when I have to be really mindful of my learners’ needs. That’s when, to my previous point, where I take into consideration the timing, the dates, things of that nature. Bringing food, that’s always a good way to get people to attend your sessions. Food for the win, every single time.
Angeline: So you’ve got your information, you’ve got them in the door, what do you do to keep them present the whole session, are there any tips or tricks of the trade you can offer?
Tiffany: One of the things I think is really important [09:00] is to get them engaged from the very beginning. At the beginning of any live session, one of the things I do is say, “Hey, OK, these are the rules of the session. We’re going to be present, we’re going to ask questions, we’re going to respect other thoughts and opinions.” And then I ask which I find to be a very good question, is there anything that I missed that’s important to you to make sure that you’re still engaged in this session? So then people provide their feedback and everyone agrees and we continue on. And then obviously you want to make sure you’re adding activities into the session to keep them engaged, whether it’s a group activity or if it’s just something that they’re doing and they’re kind of thinking to themselves and kind of imagining that situation. So those are some ways that I keep people engaged in a lot of my sessions.
Angeline: What about after the program, are there any actions you take to sustain that engagement?
Tiffany: Yes, so one of the things that I do at the end of every session is I send a User Survey to find out: A, did you enjoy the session? B, did you not? And some [10:00] key questions I ask when I do that is, what are three things that you really enjoyed about the session? And then what are three things that you wish this session could have addressed? That’s important because, when I look at that information, I’m able to then adjust my next session to make sure I’m giving people exactly what they want and to make sure that their time is well spent.
Angeline: So Tiffany, are there any trends that you’ve seen in those post surveys that have really been good learning moments for you as you develop programs?
Tiffany: I would say really the main feedback that I get is most people really enjoyed the sessions. They really are looking for those best practice type of tips at the end, and that’s something that I didn’t always think about or do, but it’s something that I am incorporating more and more. Because they really want that, you know to your initial question earlier on about what’s in it for them, OK this is all great information, but how can I really use this information in my day-to-day work? And so by beginning to provide those best practices and those tips, [11:00] it has really helped people really buy-in and want to go to the next session because they know, oh I’m going to get some really valuable information.
Angeline: I completely agree, it’s so helpful to have those best practices and those takeaways at the end of a session that your learners can refer back to. It’s very helpful.
Tiffany: Yes it is, most definitely.
Susan: That’s great Tiffany. Any other advice that you’d like to offer our listeners?
Tiffany: I did want to add one thing if I may. They key to what I feel is my success, and it’s, I do listen to my learners. I’m always curious, I’m always asking questions, always trying to think of creative ways to get my learners engaged. So, whether even be the subject line in the email that I’m sending out when I send out the invites, something that’s going to really catch the learners’ attention
It’s all about listening to your learners, if I had to give anyone any real solid advice on what do I do now, listen. Take notes, ask questions, listen.
Susan: Tiffany, thank you so much, such great advice. And I think people really [12:00] always need to remember the importance of focusing on the learner, and sometimes we may lose sight of that. And you’ve had such great reminders today, some real easy steps that I think people can implement to their learning even more impactful.
Angeline, learner engagement is such an important part of what we do at d’Vinci. What have you seen work best for companies and organizations that are looking to build better engagement?
Angeline: You know Susan, Tiffany made some amazing points, and I think it’s important to remember that learner engagement begins from that very first piece of communication that you send your audience. So it does start at the beginning from when you send out your email invite, or you have a postcard or flyer that’s announcing that training, to when that learner walks in the door and participates in the program, to anything you do afterwards to follow-up and continue that engagement and reinforce what they learned. So I think it’s really important to remember that it does start before the training happens. I think a lot of times we think about learner engagement, [13:00] and we think what learning activities can I have in my instructor led training or how am I going to make this eLearning more interactive? And it’s more than that, you have to think a little bit more holistically.
And I know at d’Vinci, we always circle back to what we know about adult learners, again, circling back to some of the things that Tiffany said. Adults have specific needs. So they surveys can find out and uncover what their preferences are, are important and they all come with different life experiences. So a huge piece of learner engagement is relevancy. Making sure you’re tying that relevancy in from the beginning, so that WIIFM, what’s in it for me, make sure they know that up front and keep referring back to that and tying that back in during the training.
Susan: Probably after the training too.
Angeline: Yes, yes, yes, after the training too, absolutely. And you need to tap into that internal motivation for them. We can’t impose on them, so even if we have the relevancy and we’re making sure their needs are met, we can’t force them to be motivated. Really doing your research, having your learner personas and doing that due diligence to see what’s going to motivate them to get them to really be present in the moment [14:00] and engage is also important. And then if you’re looking at, you know, a lot of what we do at d’Vinci is eLearning, we do do instructor-led training too, but it’s taking that eLearning stance since that’s really our bread and butter and something we’re really passionate about. We also look at the visual design. From a visual design perspective, really making sure that it’s clean. Consider user experience, so we don’t want to clutter the screen too much. We want to help them focus on the content that we’re presenting to them. Making sure that the practice exercises or any of those interactive components in the eLearning again, are relevant. Certainly we want to chunk and organize information and we use those simple click to reveal opportunities. But you can do more than that, and if the content lends itself, do scenario based training, and allow them to make decisions and have that relevancy moment and have it apply to their job or the situation, whatever that may be based on the topic. So they have that opportunity to practice and have a little bit of hands-on in something that’s eLearning.
Susan: I would think that if it’s engaging when they’re going through an eLearning, [15:00] they’re going to want to come back and be engaged for the next one.
Like if you set the stage properly, it’s going to build on that engagement as you move forward with your eLearning program.
Angeline: Yes, yes! And also just even, you know, I think back in school, recognition goes a long way. You feel good when you know you did something right. So allowing them, yes you want to give them opportunities to do something wrong, but give them opportunities to do something right and feel like they’re on the right path, because that boost in confidence is going to propel their engagement even further. So it’s going to help them feel immersed. And then lastly, we do a lot of media production and video elements oftentimes in eLearning, especially today. Because everybody is used to ingesting content via video especially with TikTok and YouTube, you name it. So we work with our parent company JPL to do any of those video elements. But video, it has an awesome way of telling a story or building that emotional connection, or simplifying something that’s complex. All of those little things, that’s engagement, because you’re helping keep that learner present and in the moment in tune with [16:00] your content. So that’s another tactic.
Susan: And great too, to use video for like scenario based training. That’s a great way to engage your learners, by using video that way.
Angeline: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. And once that training is done, whether it’s eLearning like we just talked about or some other type of learning experience, always follow-up. After, that forgetting curve is real, try to plan some post follow-up beyond the next day and a week, check in with them in a month, two months.
And have something that’s going to trigger a reminder of what they learned in that program.
Susan: Thanks Angeline. And special thanks to our guest, Tiffany McLean for joining us today. If you have any questions about what we talked about, or have an idea for a topic or guest, please drop us a note at poweredbylearning@d’Vinci.com.