LEARNER ENGAGEMENT – IDEAS FOR IMPROVING EMOTIONAL ENGAGEMENT IN YOUR COURSES

This article discusses strategies to create and enhance emotional engagement in e-learning courses. It emphasizes the importance of a strong WIIFM to generate confidence about the course in the learner, while also discussing other strategies to bring about engagement. Additionally, the article suggests specific places in the course where these strategies can be applied.

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In a previous article, I talked about the different types of learner engagement that there are, and what each one entails. In this one, I discuss ideas to bring about and enhance emotional engagement.

The first step in bringing about emotional engagement is to start with a strong WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). I previously wrote in detail about generating killer WIIFMs that will make learners want to take your course.

A good WIIFM brings about confidence that the topic of the course is really important to them – the learner. Not to their manager, not to the organization, and certainly not to L&D. And that the course will equip them on the topic in an effective manner. In short, a good WIIFM convinces learners that the course is worth their time and attention.

But powerful as it may be, a WIIFM can only do so much.

The WIIFM is like the one book that you spot among thousands of books in the library. The book’s title and cover have caught your attention. You’re fascinated by the promise of the book (which happens to be the WIIFM in our case), and you pull it out of the shelf.

What happens next? Will the book hold your attention as you read it? Will it deliver on its promise?

If not, back it goes into the shelf. And you start scanning for other books in the library.

This is exactly what happens with the learner and your course.

Let’s assume that you wrote a killer WIIFM, and they come in to the course with an expectation based on what they read. Now you need to keep them interested (a.k.a. engaged) throughout the length of the course. Otherwise, their interest will fizzle, and they might mentally check out.

Below, we’ll discuss some strategies you can employ in specific places in the course to try to maintain their attention. But before we get into that, there are a few traits that you want to infuse all through your content.

  • Meaningful: You want your content to be meaningful and relatable. Are your examples and scenarios of immediate use to learners in the workplace? If not, can they relate to the examples and scenarios at least? Doing this will convince the learner that this is really important.
  • Personal: What are the consequences (to the learner) of knowing or not knowing the topic? Are the consequences shown in clear terms? This applies not just to the overall topic of the course, but also to each sub-topic and segment. Another way to make it personal is by writing as if you’re talking to the person. Ditch the corporate speak, and write as if you’re explaining to a friend. Use active voice, short sentences, and simple terms.
  • Emotional: This means tapping into the emotions and instincts of learners at a deeper level. Confidence, empathy, fear, anxiety, happiness, joy, sadness, anger, and even disgust are some examples of the emotions you could tap into.

Here’s an example from my own bread baking journey. I recently learnt to bake bread by reading articles and watching videos on YouTube. When I started off, I turned out all kinds of loaves – blackened, gummy, colorless, flavorless, flat, you name it… anything but tasty bread.

After at least a half a dozen failed attempts, I was at the peak of my frustration. But you know what kept me going? The anticipation of… a freshly baked loaf… the aroma wafting through the air and filling the house… the sound of the crust crackling when you cut open the loaf with a serrated knife… the flavor of warm bread as you bite into it.

One (possibly) out of the dozens of videos I watched had talked about these, and I was hooked to these positive emotions, which is what kept me trying until I started getting good results.

Similar emotions can be invoked in your course too. Try to sell learners on the positive aspects of following safety protocols, or complying with GDPR regulations, or whatever the topic of your course is.

You don’t always have to use positive emotions. Negative emotions could work as well, when used judiciously and in moderation. For example, a course on making sustainable choices could trigger sadness and compassion in the learner, by showing the plight of communities affected by climate change. It could also trigger anger, by showing the apathy of governments and corporations, thereby leading the learner into taking action.

Emotional engagement can be brought about at various points in the course, and not just at the very beginning. These places could include:

  • A stunning opener. Well, this is at the beginning of the course, but it could come after the WIIFM. An opener is probably a story, a scenario or a question that sets the scene for the course. It gets learners thinking. It gets them engaged and connected with what comes next. I remember going through a course on modern slavery many years ago. It started off by asking “How many slaves work for you?” I still remember this question to this day because of the impact it had on me.
  • Decision-making scenarios. How close are your scenarios to the work-life of your learners? Do the scenarios reflect the challenges they face in their day-to-day work? Are the decisions they’re required to make representative of their struggles? Are you showing the consequences of their decisions in a vivid and realistic manner? Answer yes to these questions to improve the engagement quotient of your scenarios.
  • Characters. Well-defined characters can make learners root for them, thereby increasing their involvement in the course. If you spent time outlining and fleshing out your personas, they can come in handy here. Use those personas to add a little personality to your characters. You can even introduce quirks and character flaws, which will make them even more realistic and relatable.  
  • A distinct voice. This doesn’t have to mean audio, although that would help too. What I am talking about is the style in which your content is written. It could be funny, quirky, tongue-in-cheek, or simply heartfelt and honest. Adding personality to your content, and refraining from writing in boring corporate speak, can bring about oodles of engagement.
  • Visuals. Small visual cues sprinkled throughout the course, without the content having to say anything extra, can enhance the engagement level of your courses too. For example, in a course on time management, we placed a little clock above the main character’s head that showed 9 pm. The content was talking about strategies to take control of your time, but this simple visual signaled to learners that the character’s time management was out of control.

So, these are my ideas for improving the emotional engagement in your courses. What would you add? I’d love to hear from you.


Written by Srividya Kumar, Co-Founder @ Learnnovators

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