5 signs your learners are unengaged (and what to do about it)

7 min read
Jun 25, 2024 4:33:46 PM

Learner engagement is essential for effective training. People learn faster,  retain their new knowledge longer, and they’re more likely to change the way they do things as a result. But if people don’t care, learning flops. Spot signs learner engagement is on the rocks and get your training back on track.  


5 red flags that show learners have checked out  


🚩 1: Lack of demand for learning 

One of the first signs of poor learner engagement is a lack of curiosity. L&D teams aren’t getting requests for learning content from team leaders, and staff aren’t seeking out new learning or knowledge. They’re doing their job and going home. There’s no hunger for more.  

🚩 2: Learning resources aren’t being used 

Businesses often tell us their team aren’t using their existing learning resources. Maybe the modules you created are mouldering in your LMS, or that content library you’ve bought at great expense is gathering dust. Whatever your learning content looks like, if it’s covered in cobwebs, that’s a solid sign it isn’t scratching your team’s learning itch.  

🚩 3: You’re chasing your team to complete learning 

You launch a new module, but three months later only 20% of staff have done it.  You spend weeks chasing, and you still end up with underwhelming engagement. Also look out for staff doing the bare minimum. If you know a module takes 10 minutes, and your team’s average completion time is three minutes, it’s a sign your content isn’t engaging them enough. 

🚩 4: Your team resist learning 

Resistance can be passive. People drag their heels on completing e-learning, or don’t show up to a workshop. Resistance can also be more overt. We’ve all been to workshops where someone’s body language and lack of participation show they don’t want to be there.  

🚩 5: Lack of learner feedback 

Learner feedback is essential to fuel your continuous improvement loop. If you’re seeking feedback and no one's giving you the time of day, it’s clear your team don’t care.  


Why are your team so disengaged?  


Four main factors cause poor learner engagement time and time again.  


1: Businesses dictate what their team needs to learn 

If your learners are engaged, a good proportion of your learning will be created to meet your team’s demand. We often speak to L&D teams overwhelmed with learning requests from their organisation because people are so hungry to learn. And, although that creates its own issues, demand for learning shows you’ve built a healthy learning culture.  

When a business dictates what their team needs to learn, they risk pushback. Adults don’t like being told what to do. We see it as a threat to our freedom, and our knee jerk response is to say, screw you. People understand some learning is compulsory for compliance. But when all learning is imposed without consultation, that’s a recipe for your team checking out. 

2: Your learning isn’t relevant to your team 

The golden rule in learning is context over content. Make your content relevant to your team, or they won't care. We worked with an energy company struggling to get people to engage with health and safety training. Turned out the training wasn’t relevant to most of their team. Their engineers needed specialist training to work at height and around chemicals. But that training was also being rolled out to head office staff who never work in high-risk situations.  

A lot of businesses subscribe to learning content libraries like LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, and Skillsoft. But those libraries are designed to appeal to a broad market and tend to be generic as a result. We met a large New Zealand corporate that spent a million dollars on LinkedIn Learning. After 18 months, only 20% of their staff had created a login.  

Another company spent $500,000 on a new learning library. But after a few months, they were getting negative feedback. Their workforce said they didn't have time for learning longer than 15 minutes and didn’t like American content. Unfortunately, the whole library was produced in the US and most content was an hour long. It wasn’t relevant to their needs.  

3: You’re creating cognitive overload  

If you overwhelm people with vast amounts of learning, learner engagement will drop. This is because when you give people too much info in one hit, they experience cognitive overload, where their ability to learn decreases because they’re mentally exhausted. Nobody enjoys feeling like that, and it’s a sure-fire way to lose learners’ good will.  

A sales rep employed by a multinational told us he had to complete 28 learning modules in his first month. He started out willing to learn. The first few modules he read everything carefully. But by the time he'd done his 15th module, he was deep in cognitive overload, just clicking next.  

4: Your learning is boring your team to tears  

People resist learning after they’ve had a bad learning experience. When people join a new company, they're open to learning. But as soon as they have a few negative experiences and learning begins to feel like a chore, they no longer see value in learning, and you’re going to have to work extra hard to win them over again. 


How do you improve learner engagement?  


Benefits of improved learner engagement include better return on your learning investment, improved performance, and higher employee retention. Here are seven ways to reengage your team with learning.  

1: Ask learners what they want to learn 

L&D specialists don’t exist to keep auditors happy. We're here to help teams thrive. Talk to your learners. Ask them what would help them do their job. A fintech organisation we work with assesses workers’ training needs, then aligns those requests with the organisation’s strategic imperatives, before prioritising that wish list based on what the team need most. As a result, they’ve a healthy learning culture, and a team hungry to upskill.  

2: Sell your learning to your team 

Sell the benefits of learning. Work with your marketing team to understand how to create buzz and buy in. And think about how you position your learning. We often see compliance modules saying things like, “You must complete this within the next two weeks.” That immediately puts learners’ backs up. Lead with the carrot, not the stick. Tell people how learning is going to fix their problems and make their lives easier.  

3: Make learning hyper-relevant to your situation 

Put your learners at the centre of your design process. Use stories and scenarios your people run into on the job, along with visuals that represent your team and situations they encounter every day. And be targeted with your content. An energy company built a health and safety module just for engineers at a geothermal power station in an active volcanic zone. Learning scenarios were relevant to that team, but of zero interest to engineers in their hydroelectric plants. Not all content you produce will be relevant to everyone on your team. 

4: Make your learning more interactive  

Learning that lacks engaging elements shows a lack of respect for your learners. A few ways to improve your learning design and experience include: 

  • Embrace Learning Experience Design. LXD delivers that X factor of fun and delight that elevates learning from a chore to a pleasure. 
  • Create moments of delight with interactive elements like flip cards, quizzes, and choose your own adventure. People find interactive learning content more engaging. 
  • Use diverse types of content to keep different kinds of learners engaged. Chameleon makes it easy to incorporate images, illustrations, video, and audio.  

5: Use the 80/20 rule to avoid cognitive overload. 

When L&D teams cram too much technical info into learning it leads to cognitive overload. If you want to change the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves, create learning content. If you want people to be able to access info to solve problems, create a knowledge library. Treat those two forms of content as two separate things. In learning, focus on the most important 20% – those skills and knowledge your team really need for their day-to-day work. Create a reference library of other info so when people need it, it’s easy to find.  

Onboarding a new team member, you get one chance to make them an advocate for learning. So, curate that experience carefully. Consider how much content you’re asking them to wade through, and how relevant it all is to their daily tasks.  

6: Respect your learners’ time  

People are busy. If you have annual compliance training, consider a pre-assessment. Ask people to do a quick quiz to test their knowledge of compliance. If people pass the quiz, they can skip the training. Take five minutes of their time instead of 30 minutes. 

We started recommending this approach after realising many organisations were asking their people to do the same compliance training year after year. We met someone who’d done the same e-learning module for eight years and knew all the answers by heart.   

7: Seek learner feedback 

Continuous improvement isn’t an industry norm for L&D, the way it is in other areas of business, such as marketing and product development. Always seek qualitative feedback from your learners. Not only does it help you improve your learning, but feedback is an early warning system that lets you know if your learners’ engagement has dropped off.  


Put your learners first, and learner engagement follows naturally 


So many issues with learner engagement are caused by putting the needs of a business over the needs of its people. The two things must be aligned, but prioritising business demands over learner experience is a false economy, because the learning simply doesn’t get used. Learning becomes a tick-box exercise, instead of an enjoyable learning experience that transforms the way people perform and drives long-term business success.  

If you’re keen to discover an easy way to make your learning more interactive and engaging, give Chameleon a free trial. And subscribe to our newsletter for more insights and tips on increasing learner engagement.  


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