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Learner engagement

Learner engagement

Table of Contents

    It’s not a secret that keeping learners engaged in today’s fast-paced learning environment is crucial for achieving optimal learning outcomes. 

    But what is learner engagement and how can it be achieved? 

    In this article, you will explore the definition of learner engagement, its importance, its types, and practical tips for improving engagement. Whether you’re a learning and development (L&D) professional, training facilitator, educator, or team lead, this guide will provide valuable insights on improving learner engagement and achieving better learning outcomes.

    What is learner engagement?

    Learner engagement is an active and meaningful involvement in the learning process. It refers to the degree to which learners are actually invested in and motivated to learn and can be measured through different indicators such as participation, feedback, and retention. 

    Engaged learners are more likely to retain information, apply it in real-world situations, and achieve better learning outcomes and metrics.

    Why is learner engagement important?

    Learner engagement is an important part of successful L&D development programs that create a significant impact in key areas, like dropout rates, performance, knowledge retention, efficiency, and overall learning culture. 

    Let’s explore further why learner engagement is essential for optimal learning outcomes.

    Reduces dropout rates

    Active learner engagement can reduce dropout rates, which is a significant advantage. When your learners are engaged in the learning process, they are more likely to have motivation and commitment to complete the course. 

    On the other hand, disengaged learners may lose interest and become less committed to finishing the program. High dropout rates are a big issue for many organizations. Focusing on learner engagement increases completion rates and maximizes the return on investment (ROI) in learning programs.

    Increases performance

    When learners take an active role in their learning and participate in activities and challenges, they develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for achieving adequate learning outcomes. As a result, they become better equipped to apply their knowledge in real-world situations, leading to improved performance in the workplace.

    By providing interactive and personalized learning experiences, organizations can improve learner engagement, leading to better business outcomes, such as increased productivity, improved customer satisfaction, and higher revenue.

    Additionally, engaged learners take their professional development more seriously which leads to better performers. Employee development should be a focal point of all training programs and company goals. 

    Improves knowledge retention

    Improving knowledge retention is a crucial benefit of learner engagement. When learners actively engage in the learning process, they are more likely to retain and apply the information to their daily lives. 

    According to the famous Forgetting Curve theory, people begin forgetting as soon as they learn something, and in the following days and weeks, up to 70% of the material is lost.

    Prioritizing learner engagement is essential to improve knowledge retention and maximize the impact of learning programs long-term. Engaged students will remember more of the material because they’ll be more immersed in the learning activities and care more about the material. 

    Fosters a culture of learning

    By actively engaging learners in the learning process, they become more motivated to seek additional learning opportunities and are more committed to continuous learning and development. 

    This, in turn, can lead to increased innovation, achieving good business results, and a more engaged and productive workforce.

    A culture of learning can help employees feel supported in their personal and professional growth, leading to increased job satisfaction and employee retention. It can also promote a more agile and adaptable workforce, better equipped to handle changing business needs and technological advancements.

    Now that you understand the importance of learner engagement let’s explore the distinction between active and passive engagement and why it matters.


    Active vs. passive engagement

    Active and passive engagement are two distinct approaches to learning that have significant implications for learner outcomes. Both types of engagement can be effective, depending on the context and learner preferences. 

    Active engagement

    Active engagement in learning involves taking an active role in the learning process. This means learners participate in activities, discussions, or hands-on practice with the material. In a virtual setting, this can be interactive questions, pools, or chat discussions. Anyway to make the learner interact and practice what they are learning. 

    Active engagement is characterized by curiosity, interest, and learner motivation. Your methods don’t have to be very involved. Simply asking learners to take a moment to reflect on a concept can initiate active engagement. However, the more active the learner is, the more actively engaged they will be. 

    Passive engagement

    Passive engagement, conversely, means that learners are passive recipients of information or content. This type of engagement is more often associated with traditional learning models, such as lectures, where learners are expected to absorb information without actively participating in the learning process.

    Passive engagement includes reading materials or watching videos without any accompanying activities or discussion.

    While passive engagement can help introduce new concepts or provide background, it is less effective than active engagement for achieving more profound learning outcomes.

    Types of learning engagement

    Learner engagement is a crucial aspect of any successful talent development program, and it can manifest itself in various forms. 

    This section explores six specific types of engagement essential for creating an effective learning experience. 



    Cognitive engagement focuses on capturing learners’ interest and stimulating curiosity about the course content and subject matter. Instructors need to ensure training materials are presented in a way that fulfills the learners’ needs and provides an intellectual challenge to keep them engaged.

    Additionally, the structure of webinars and online courses should allow each student to explore and make sense of the learning content, promoting learner autonomy. By nurturing cognitive engagement, instructors create a learning experience that is more interesting and relevant.


    While sustaining interest and mental focus is crucial, ensuring learners have an emotional connection to the subject matter is equally essential. 

    If learners don’t feel emotionally invested in the training, they are less likely to retain and apply the new skills to their lives. This is especially true for adult learners who need to feel a connection with the material to learn best.

    To increase emotional engagement, instructors can create a sense of community within the training group. Social learning features in your learning management system are a great way to achieve this.

    Instructors can also provide opportunities for learners to see their progress and celebrate their accomplishments, through gamification. Providing real-world examples also helps to emphasize the relevance of the content which triggers an emotional connection to the material. Additionally, expressing how the training program can benefit the learner helps to make it more meaningful. 


    Behavioral engagement refers to learners’ actions and behaviors in response to the learning material. It encompasses a learner’s involvement in a specific task, the effort they put into completing it, and their ability to follow instructions. Behavioral engagement is crucial for long-term immersion in the course and for its successful completion by each learner.

    Effective learning programs should encourage learners to participate and actively take ownership of their learning journey. This can be achieved by setting clear expectations, providing clear instructions, and offering timely feedback to learners. Instructors should encourage learners to set goals and establish a sense of accountability to stay on track. Behavioral engagement examples include completing workbook activities, answering questions, and providing insights during group discussions.


    Social engagement describes how learners interact with others in the course, including trainers and fellow learners. 

    Collaboration and social interactions play a crucial role in improving learning outcomes. Today, social media channels such as LinkedIn, task management systems like Trello and Asana, and chat apps like Slack make it easier for learners to collaborate, ask questions, and get feedback from their peers. You can use these same social elements in training programs, too.

    For example, Docebo offers a range of social learning capabilities, including collaborative learning through social media channels, group projects, team-based activities, gamification elements, and social feedback, creating a social learning environment that fosters engagement, teamwork, and knowledge-sharing among learners. Also, mentorship or shadowing programs add a strong social aspect to the learning process. 

    People learn better when they have a community to rely on and social interactions as an additional tool


    Physical engagement in learning is all about incorporating movement and physical activity into the learning experience. This type of engagement is significant for kinesthetic learners who learn best through movement and touch. 

    While physical engagement may seem challenging to achieve in virtual classrooms, it is now possible through virtual reality (VR) simulations and other tools thanks to technological advancements. The best type of physical engagement to include are hands-on activities that require learners to interact with equipment or apply what they have learned in the real world.

    Including physical activities in the learning experience can help learners better retain information and stay more engaged in the training. Simple activities like stretching, standing up, moving around, or incorporating movement into group activities can make a big difference. It can also positively impact learners’ overall health and well-being as sitting for extended periods can harm physical health. 


    Cultural engagement in L&D refers to the organization’s culture and how well the training aligns with it. 

    Effective teaching and course design should encourage communication, support, and collaboration among learners. The learning experience should strengthen the company culture by reinforcing its values and recognizing constructive feedback. When learners are already part of a learning culture, they are automatically that much more engaged in learning experiences. 

    6 tested ways to improve learner engagement

    Engaging learners can be a challenge, but there are several proven strategies to make learning material more effective and enjoyable. Let’s take a look at how these strategies can improve your learning efforts.

    Set clear learning goals

    When learners understand what they are working toward and the outcomes they can expect, they are more motivated and focused. Clear goals also help trainers assess learners’ progress and provide targeted feedback to help them stay on track. The learning goals should benefit the learner in some way, like making work processes more efficient or improving interdepartmental communication. Be sure to establish how the learner will benefit from the training early and often. 

    Reward learners

    Rewarding learners is another effective way to keep them engaged. Recognition and positive feedback can be incredibly motivating, and simple rewards like certificates or badges can help learners feel accomplished and inspired to continue online learning. 

    Trainers can use LMSs to reward learning efforts and track learner progress. Docebo offers such capabilities through gamification elements like badges, points, and leaderboards that promote healthy competition among learners.

    Try microlearning

    Microlearning is a powerful tool for increasing learner engagement levels. Breaking down complex topics into small, easily digestible chunks can help learners stay focused and motivated to keep learning. Bite-sized learning content also makes it easier for learners to fit learning into their busy schedules.

    Welcome feedback

    Welcoming feedback from learners is a great way to boost engagement. Encouraging learners to share their thoughts and opinions on the training content and delivery can help trainers identify areas for improvement and 

    adjust their approach accordingly. This can also help learners feel valued in the learning process.

    Gathering feedback is easy with a learning management system like Docebo. Its social feedback features such as forums enable learners to observe and comment on each other’s work, fostering a collaborative learning environment.

    Use interactive elements

    Incorporate as much interaction between employees and educational materials as possible. This could be poll surveys, discussion boards, questions, workbooks, or hands-on activities. Sitting and listening for the entirety of a training session can be dull and passive. Requiring the learner to analyze and apply what they have learned can generate interactivity. 

    Build hype for upcoming content

    Finally, building hype for upcoming content can help keep learners excited. Teasing upcoming content, sharing sneak peeks or previews, or highlighting the benefits and outcomes of the learning experience can help build anticipation and keep learners engaged over the long term.


    Now over to you

    Learner engagement is crucial for the success of any corporate training program. By understanding the different types of engagement and implementing these techniques, organizations can boost their learners’ knowledge retention, motivation, and overall learning culture. 

    If you’re looking for a learning platform to help you implement these engagement strategies, schedule a demo with Docebo today.