Why First Impressions Count When It Comes to Learner Engagement

First impressions apply in all walks of life—and it’s no different when it comes to learner engagement. This blog post explores why gaining a user’s attention from the start leads to greater engagement throughout their learning experience.

In a world of digital overload, the modern L&D team has to compete with constant online notifications and pop-ups vying for your audience’s attention. A sleek learning interface is helpful, but it’s not enough by itself.

We live in an age of digital overload, which means learners are:

  • Always switched on, always entertained
  • Often using second or third screens—devices everywhere!
  • Regularly receiving (and actively looking for) notifications

So How Can You Make an Instant Impact to Maximize Learner Engagement?

  1. Understand what motivates your audience.
  2. Surprise with clever learning design.
  3. Excite and intrigue using video and animation.
  4. Empower the user with a tailored learning path.

1) Understand What Motivates Your Audience

Why should I care? One of the most important drivers for behavior is motivation—wanting to do something or being motivated to change. Understanding what people care about and reflecting that in your communications will provide people with a clear sense of what they will gain, or why they should care.

Have you heard the story of Penny Roberts, whose parachute failed to open and fell 14,000 feet during a skydive? She miraculously survived, although the fall left her paralyzed. A video of her talking about this ordeal was used to open a National Health Service (NHS) learning program in the United Kingdom, which was devised to engage an audience of healthcare leaders.

The story’s dramatic and tragic circumstances make it high-impact—which naturally shocked and got an emotional buy-in. But what made this video so powerful was the rest of the story that Penny told: of living with extreme pain and her involvement with the healthcare system as she recovered.

It spoke directly to the NHS leaders on the course and showed them a real-life example of the phenomenal difference they could make to an individual’s life through their job role.

So, when it comes to learner engagement, understanding what motivates your audience will help you create relevant, meaningful and personalized learning, by getting buy-in from the start.

2) Surprise with Clever Learning Design

Encountering a long list of learning objectives, a linear e-learning course structure and a knowledge-based assessment does not exactly provide the most captivating start to a course.

“If you build it, they will come” simply doesn’t hold true.

Learning design is an art in itself. Whether it’s designing learning with clever performance support, creating a compelling behavioral scenario so people can practice new skills, designing a searchable knowledge base, or connecting people with experienced colleagues who can share their expertise—spend time making the case for a thoughtful design approach that clearly answers learners’ needs from the outset.

3) Excite and Intrigue Using Storytelling

Video and animations can draw learners in straight away. These visually stimulating media formats can offer excitement and intrigue. Clever storytelling techniques can add drama by, for example, starting with a high-impact video of an accident. The learner can then unpick the causes of the accident as they work through the course.

Starting with a high-impact video also offers a well-rounded approach to building a narrative—with the option to wrap up the course with the same scenario you started with, helping the learner reflect on how they got there.

This high-impact approach is a great way to surprise—it challenges preconceptions and invokes a powerful emotional response. Animation can also offer a high-octane, engaging start but the key here is that any video or animation must be relevant to the user and fit in with the theme of the learning. If it’s done for the sake of it, it’s not likely to be effective.

4) Empower the User with a Tailored Learning Path

Another way to engage your learner early on in the course is by offering a tailored pathway. And don’t be afraid to explain the benefit of this to the user. This can demonstrate that their time is valued and that the course has been designed with convenience in mind. It creates a great first impression and shows you’re giving more than you’re taking.

Try using routes according to a number of different factors. Some common ones are:

  • Prior knowledge or ability (assessed by tests)
  • Cognitive or scenario testing
  • Confidence
  • Territory
  • Role
  • Product
  • User choice (self-assessment of need)

We do recognize that gaining user attention at the start of a program is not enough by itself. However, it’s a crucial step that will set you on the right track to offering a rewarding and engaging learning experience.

A version of this post first appeared on LEO Learning.

Ella Richardson
About the author

Ella Richardson

Learning Design Director

Learning integrity is my remit, across all aspects of LEO's business - from participating in projects, to encouraging our team of learning designers and consultants to create their best possible work. I am always pushing, and hopefully inspiring, our clients and the world at large to think boldly, bravely and big. I lead the Learning Design team at LEO, ensuring that our work is cutting edge and delivers sustainable change. I'm responsible for learning excellence, and am active in developing new thinking in the field of design-led learning innovation. I'm ultimately driven to improve organisations by strategically enhancing the performance of people. I hope to work with you soon.

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