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Marijn De Geus


Founder & CEO

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3 ways to boost engagement in online training


By default, mandatory training, or mandatory anything for that matter, is not fun.

And probably, at least some of your participants were mandated to follow your training.

Having them show up for a live training session in which they have no other choice than to participate is one thing. But how do you motivate them to fully engage in your online training program?

In my work, I think about motivation and discipline a lot. We work with training companies that train soft skills and you have probably experienced first-hand how hard it is to change behavior.

Above all, it requires a lot of practice and, as such, motivation and discipline. Among others, we have found the three principles below to be essential for engagement in online training.

1. “You are incompetent”

Let’s start with a basic assumption: People only learn when they want to. This means that before anything else, it has to be abundantly clear why this training is necessary at all. How is this going to benefit me? Or, I’ve been doing it like this forever, why should I change?

In skill training, this usually means that one should move from unconsciously incompetent to consciously incompetent (Maslow). Think carrot (“If you do it like this, your work becomes easier”), stick (“The way sales are done have changed, and if you don’t change…”) or, my favorite, experience (“You see what just happened in that role-play?”).

2. Make it feasible and reward efforts

Something is fun when you see the progress you are making and feel like you do what is asked of you. Continuously give the participant confirmation of his or her progress and gradually increase the level of difficulty. 

Additionally, praise effort above results. How good I’ll get at a certain skill is not entirely within my span of control, but how much effort I put into it is. Many gamification mechanisms rely on this principle: badges, engagement points, bonus levels, etc. Whatever you call it: Rewarding efforts is a sure way to stimulate a better learning attitude and better results.

3. Stimulate competition, but beware

Competition is a powerful mechanism. Think for example of a list with all your participants ordered by the progress they have made. A list, even tucked away in some dark corner of your learning system, has proven to be a very reliable way of boosting everyone's motivation. We hear stories of (over)achievers emailing each other when they oust someone from first place, but we hear even more that no one wants to bungle on the bottom of the list.

But beware. Competition is not only a powerful motivator, but also a dangerous one. To make it work, make sure that you boost competition of efforts, not scores. Comparing grades was not even fun in high school. Finally, nobody likes to fail and this goes in particular for adults in a work environment. As failing is essential to learning, make sure they can do so in a safe environment and be 100 percent clear when they will be assessed. 

If you know any other ways that proved effective, feel free to add!

Author Profile Picture
Marijn De Geus

Founder & CEO

Read more from Marijn De Geus

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