e-learning engagement strategies (getting learners to complete!!!)

Aug 26, 2012

Just wondering if anyone has encountered issues getting learners to engage and complete a course.  We deliver blended solutions, with the first part being e-learning which we host and report on.  We provide weekly progress reports to our clients on how their teams are going.  We depend on the client to use the reporting to crack the whip internally.  Generally speaking we find some people love the elearning, others avoid it till just before the end of the program and most muddle through at their own pace.

We provide a Certificate of Study once learners have completed the learning and a final quiz and we know this often gets mention in resumes, so it is a kind of carrot.  But for others, esp. 40+ yos, it is harder to get them to engage (once they do, they generally are fine with it tho).

Any perspectives on how to do this better?  What carrots & sticks do you use to get a group to complete a course?

15 Replies
Bruce Graham


Any training, of any sort has to offer the learner visible and measurable personal/business benefits and value over and above NOT completing - either within the organization, or personally.

It is up to the client teams to make this value known, not you. This should be planned at the start of the training, before they/you start designing and deploying. It is easiest to do if, (as in your case), it is part of a blended solution - they should build the value etc. into team meetings etc.

You HAVE to find the "WIFM" ("What's in it for me") statement for each consumer/learner, this is not always easy.

I am about to start designing a course on how to clean, prepare and fire pistols. The WIFM is simple, ("Unless I consume and prove I have learned from this course, I will not be allowed on the range to use the real thing".

It's not always that easy, however, this is how you get consumption - or at least it is one of the things that you can do to increase the odds.


Bruce Graham

I would be interested to hear how this one plays out!

It is something I have come across time and time again - expecting the eLearning course-creator to have the answers to the problem.

Think of it in terms of food. It's like telling the supermarket to make me buy smoked cheese. I will not. Ever. Perhaps the cheese manufacturer should have found out that I like brie before supplying the store. I know it's a rather odd allusion, but hopefully you get the point of what I am trying to say here.....  


Bud Keegan

Great analogy and yes, I get what you're on to there.

I will report back in on this.  Our MD & Commercial Director met with one of the team leaders yesterday and learned that there's not been great communication internally.   One learning for us: we have to articulate (pun intended?) what the message should be internally on behalf of our client.  These are surprisingly big projects and yet you still have to walk clients through the steps...

Bruce Graham

Bud Keegan said:

Great analogy and yes, I get what you're on to there.

I will report back in on this.  Our MD & Commercial Director met with one of the team leaders yesterday and learned that there's not been great communication internally.   One learning for us: we have to articulate (pun intended?) what the message should be internally on behalf of our client.  These are surprisingly big projects and yet you still have to walk clients through the steps...

Thanks. Sounds pretty much as expected.

Very often this "walk-through" is needed, because very often clients do not actually understand how learning process works, (or doesn't...).

Think about it - how many people in corporate learning ever planned to get there and do it as a career? I have not met many ever, certainly I did not.

When you and your team, as an instructional designer use the skills of the ID community, that's where you start to add business-value, and cease to be "...just another supplier...". That's how you become trusted by them, that's how you get repeat business.

All of that said, you can, (for example), offer to run the classroom/workshop events that back up the online learning - that's a complete package, and again adds "on-stop" value.

Good luck.


Bud Keegan

Well said-- we actually do offer a blended package.  We do the e-learning as a warm-up and the face-to-face sessions more as workshops as opposed to lectures.

Also wanted to let you know your thots inspired us to include WIIFM as an item on our fortnightly email newsletter to our clients!  Would be pleased to send it to you when it flies tomorrow... if you'd like, just pm me your email addy-- or I can cut and paste it in this thread (whatever suits)!  Thanks again Bruce-- this is why I love this community-- such smart, experienced pros are here to share!

El Burgaluva

Speaking of marketing... it might be an idea to discuss the need for clients to internally "promote" the WIIFM aspect of training via their newsletters, staff portal/intranet, team meetings, etc.-- especially if they can provide somewhere (face-to-face or virtual) for people to ask questions and share their concerns/misgivings, etc. and then have someone associated with the learning initiative -- ideally someone senior -- respond to those questions and concerns, possibly with your consultation.

Too much heavy-handed, top-down training can easily result in resentment from those "forced" to do it. That obviously just increases resistance and "poisons the well", so to speak, re: building momentum and a culture/vibe of wanting to complete the training because there are clear and relevant benefits to doing so.

Get the client to do learner profiles for their internal newsletter, short video interviews for the intranet and so on...

As I said: marketing.

Hope it goes well,


Bruce Graham

Leslie's post reminds me of that old adage:

"Hi! I'm from head office and I'm here to help you guys out!"

It's funny...if a company were to launch a new product, they would usually go out to the market and define the exact (perceived) need, R&D it, build it, test it with focus-groups or whatever, have a strategy for launching it, design and implemented a way to track sales, and have all kinds of ways to advertise and promote it.

When companies launch training programmes, (usually to their internal staff - their oft vaulted "greatest asset..."), they seem to think few of these steps are necessary.

Training is a product, albeit (in this context), an internal one. Getting it right demands as much effort and planning as the example above, from people who understand business process. I get frustrated (sometimes far too quickly and publically I admit...), by training deployments that are deployed by people who see training as the end product. It's not, and never has been.

In corporate-land, training only ever exists to fulfill a VERY small list of reasons - to increase profit, to reduce loss, to reduce risk, to increase product awareness/loyalty, or for compliance reasons (which could fall under risk...). Identify which one. Then quantify/detail why training is important, and tie it back to the reason people should care about it or need it., (back to WIIFM again). It is often the case that that many people who are "receiving" training have never thought about this trail, or that the people responsible for managing them have never had the courtesy to take some time out and explain the whole thing to them.

If "training people" would do this, not only does it increase the value and takeup of programmes, but it means the HR dept. or whoever starts to talk the language of business, and gets more respect from the business.

Training is a part of any business operation, not an outsider. Why do we constantly think that just because it is a "support function" that it has to be treated as something outside of normal business processes? If the training department is run by the often-maligned "Operations Director/VP", then rather than wingeing about his/her lack of understanding about training, start talking THEIR language, (yes - you will have to learn it first.......), and then perhaps getting staff to complete courses might be a bit easier and make more sense.

End of rant, time for my Diazepam.....

Hopefully adds something to the conversation.


Bob S

-treads carefully into the fray-

While I whole-heartedly agree that we have a responsibility to always.... always.... keep the WIIFM  top of mind when we design courses, it is not the ONLY answer.

The fact is, no matter how wonderfully concieved and crafted a course is, there are going to be those that do not want to consume it of their own volition.  Many factors come into play and the fact is that we humans do not always do what is best for us... period.

For example, no matter how amazing a job we might do teaching the benefits of reducing our speed on the motorways, there are going to be those of us who speed. We might see the best commercials, crash data, etc etc etc.... but unless there is an enforced mandate some of us won't comply even if we understand the WIIFM.

Accordingly, we must make courses that users clearly see the value in, we must  ensure the value is communicated, and if the business-case warrants it, we must consider the "stick" as well.

One simple and incredibly effective method is simply frequent and public reporting of completions/results.

The mere fact that Unit X under Manager Y is sees that every week their completions are the lowest in the business, and that they KNOW others see that too can be a great motivator.  A simple "stick" like this combined with the uber-important imperative of designing courses that users WANT to take, is an incredibly effective combination. 

By the way... In case any law enforcement officer reads this thread, I routinely obey every traffic law.... because I know I should.


Bruce Graham


I have not even started to discus how we deal with non-compliance, but you have started to tickle around the edges.....  

Public and ritual humiliation of sales teams, on a scale from "Heroes" to "Abject Losers" was always a good one at one company I worked for

My point was - I guess - that this is a BUSINESS ISSUE to solve, not always a hot potato that should be thrown at the "training guys", which have obviously failed in their job...

Keep reminding people, using business language what THEIR responsibilities are, and you start to address these problems much more effectively.


Bob S

Fair point, Bruce. And you are right on the money.

Depending on our roles, compliance can certainly be out of scope. But for many of us, it's considered in scope.... even if it's simply after the fact when evaluating the effectiveness of the spend...

"Sure the course was great and all, but only 1/4 of our folks took it! We aren't doing THAT again in next year's budget"

So going back to some of your other posts, all the more reason to make sure that we are being true business partners and helping our customers get the results they need.... even if it means helping them define how they are going to drive compliance.


Bud Keegan


Couldn't agree more with your operating philosophy vis a vis the ROI question.  I think our business suffers from what I call the "powerpoint prince/ess" syndrome-- there are too many SMEs who just think showing up w/ a massive deck in a function room is enuf-- and they muddy the waters for true educators trying to help clients achieve BUSINESS goals.  We have a process that now includes: a learning needs analysis (for attitudinal and learning modality questions) and a digital skills assessment (a quiz to quantify current knowledge base).  We do a blended approach-- e-learning first then workshops-- then conclude by doing the DSA that confirms the needle has moved.

We market relentlessly to make the point and some clients are starting to 'get it'-- here's an article we did to draw the connection between lowly 'training' and business outcomes

Mereki White

Just wanted to express my appreciation for this thread, and community, once again.  I have often heard those around me say "it's not my problem, I just make the materials"... and I can't help but feel as a service provider, we DO have duty to ask about communications, messaging and end-user engagement.  If we don't ask, and they don't know enough about e-learning to champion it, then all we are doing is undermining the value of what we do with the people who really matter.

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