A new recipe for learner engagement (and how to bake it)


A new recipe for learner engagement (and how to bake it)

A new recipe for learner engagement (and how to bake it)

Despite an attractive learning offer, state-of-art learning technology and a corporate learning strategy, we hear that many CLOs are struggling with what really counts: learner engagement!

In today’s fast paced business and L&D – HR environment, change is our only certainty and employees are required to be agile and employable, meaning they should continuously fine-tune and develop their skillset throughout their careers (Molloy & Noe, 2010). Corporates can enable their employees to develop by offering relevant ‘lifelong’ learning & development activities, and studies have shown that both employees and the companies they are working for will benefit (Aguinis & Kraiger, 2009). Effectiveness of these corporate workplace learning programs has been linked directly to the concept of learner motivation and engagement (Noe, Tews, & Dachner; 2010) and that’s where many organizations have a current challenge, as limited learner engagement impacts the competence development and motivation of the individual & organizational performance. This article offers a new learner engagement recipe to boost learner engagement in your corporate learning environment.

Why engage your learners?

Our recent research and articles on the Learning Performance Model and Annual Learning Report have reinforced our belief that corporates want to show and improve the added value of learning investments and drive competitive advantage. Learner engagement can be seen as the “time and energy students devote to educationally purposeful activities” (Kuh, 2001) and studies show that driving learner engagement ticks quite a few boxes in terms of boosting individual performance. Learners who feel responsible for their learning are performing better and are more confident in their workplace (Xanthopoulou, Bakker, & Ilies, 2012) with a strong desire to try new skills in their job. Engaged learner are also known to be more engaged employees, who actively look for opportunities to improve and persist longer in challenging situations. Organizations who can engage their learners witness that more individual effort is put into overcoming barriers and ‘roadblocks’ to workplace application leading to a better individual and organizational performance. This build a strong case for a new recipe for learner engagement: what are the key ingredients of that learner engagement recipe and what can corporate L&D influence.

How to engage your learners – key ingredients

During the past 12 months we have reached out to Crossknowledge clients and corporate Learning Leaders from our network to find out what their challenges are in terms of learner engagement. In parallel we conducted desk research and shared early learner engagement ‘recipe’ views at conferences and roundtables to gather feedback and input on our views and concepts. The result of this journey is a leaner engagement recipe with 4 clusters that you can embrace and implement to improve learner engagement in your organization.

The 4 learner engagement clusters are:

Organizational_strategy_cultureOrganizational strategy and culture. Make sure that learning is inherently part of your organization’s strategy and culture. You can assign learners an active role in their own learning process, they can be stimulated to invest this important effort, and consequently improve their learning (Paas, Renkl, & Sweller, 2003; Corbalan, Kester, & Van Merriënboer, 2011).


Learning_offerLearning offer. Offer learning opportunities in an attractive way and actively include the learner. You can make the learning offer accessible 24/7 and more importantly delivered just-in-time and just-enough (bit-sized) for it to ‘stick’ in the workplace – academic studies have reinforced this (Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, & Whitt, 2010).


Marketing_CommunicationMarketing & communication. Communicate and market existing learning offer and strengthen the communication on new learning initiatives. You could share success stories, learner experiences and use alumni to support marketing and communication, preferably via a multi-channel approach (mail, SMS, Twitter, Yammer, Learning-Apps, communities etc.).


L_D_H_R_organisationL&D- and HR organization. Boost your L&D capabilities for better learner engagement and streamline your L&D processes and governance. Make sure the L&D-organization adapts to the ‘modern classroom’ in terms of new roles and capabilities.


To make sure that prepare yourself for better learner engagement, you should know which questions to ask yourself per cluster. You can download here the Learner Engagement tool.

How to bake the learner engagement recipe in your organization?

If CLOs have the desire to boost their learner engagement we recommend that they review our Learner Engagement recipe and its ingredients and initiate the following actions:

  • Analyse your current learner engagement status and define the To-Be.
  • Review the Learner engagement ingredients and map them against your current strategy, learning-plan and organization.
  • Identify the biggest show-stoppers and define actions related to the gaps and your organizational context (don’t boil the ocean).
  • Draft an action plan and validate this with your business, HR and L&D stakeholders.
  • Based on feedback determine your short- and medium-term actions.
  • Implement the actions with full-support from your key stakeholders.
  • Communicate about the actions to the learners at all levels as these actions are aimed at boosting their learning engagement.

Learner engagement is a challenge for many corporate L&D organizations. Not addressing this challenge runs the risk of limited employee engagement and dissatisfactory overall performance. In sharing personal lessons and research we have identified 4 clusters that boost learner engagement in your organization. In addition CLO’s can achieve efficiency, higher quality and consistency in their L&D operation by leveraging the global-local matrix framework. These clusters form the ingredients of our new recipe to boost learner engagement. With a step-by-step guidance, you have a powerful recipe to bake learner engagement inside your organization.

The authors of this article are Jan Rijken (Learning Director at CrossKnowledge) and Anja Emonds (business learning consultant)


Aguinis, H., & Kraiger, K. (2009). Benefits of training and development for individuals, teams, organizations, and society. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 451-474.

Corbalan, G., Kester, L., & Van Merriënboer, J. J. G. (2011). Learner-controlled selection of tasks with different surface and structural features: Effects on transfer and efficiency. Computers in Human Behavior, 27, 76-81.

Kuh, G. D. (2001). The National Survey of Student Engagement: Conceptual framework and overview of psychometric properties. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University, Center for Postsecondary Research.

Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J. H., & Whitt, E. J. (2010). Student success in college: Creating conditions that matter. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley.

Molloy, J.C., & Noe, R.A. (2010). “Learning” a living: Continuous learning for survival in today’s talent market. In S.W.J. Kozlowski & E. Salas (Eds.), Learning, training, and development in organizations (pp. 333-361). New York: Routledge.

Paas, F., Renkl, A., & Sweller, J. (2003). Cognitive load theory and instructional design: Recent developments. Educational Psychologist, 38, 1-4.

Noe, R. A., Tews, M. J., & Dachner, A.M. (2010). Learner Engagement: A New Perspective for Enhancing Our Understanding of Learner Motivation and Workplace Learning. The Academy of Management Annals, 4(1), 279-315. Doi 10.1080/19416520.2010.493286

Xanthopoulou, D., Bakker, A.B., & Ilies, R. (2012). Everyday working life: Explaining within-person fluctuations in employee well-being. Human Relations, 65(9), 1051-1069.

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