One of the main principles of UnlikelyGenius is focused on creating enjoyable, inclusive learning for all. One tool to help you do this is to increase engagement in the learning experience.


Why increase engagement?

Sounds like a daft question but too many people are not giving it enough thought right now. When putting training together we often forget about the learners, and focus purely on what we want to tell them, or what they need to pass/gain a certificate/meet a learning outcome, etc. We get fixated on deadlines, budgets, marketing and the topics.


But what use is all that if you haven’t made sure the course is enjoyable and engaging and no-one wants to do it?


Engagement helps you to increase:

  • Memorability
  • Relatability
  • Enjoyment
  • Your reputation
  • Your Value…
  • … how you show your values
  • And Inclusivity

1.    Storytelling


“To learn through storytelling is to take seriously the human need to make meaning from experience, to communicate that meaning to others, and, in the process, learn about ourselves and the worlds in which we reside.”

The Higher Education Academy

By nature, humans are storytellers. Right back to caveman age man we were telling stories. We find comfort in stories and find them memorable. It also helps us to learn from others. We remember more when information is presented in story form than as a list of facts. It helps us to tie a string of events or information together in our minds and to picture it.


In addition, storytelling:

  • has also been shown to improve positive emotions
  • increases connection between the trainer and learner
  • introduces the learner to a wider range of views and opinions of events
  • encourages learners to share experiences
  • helps with flow and provides an ongoing discussion point
  • encourages co-operative activity
  • links theory to practice
  • stimulates students’ critical thinking skills
  • captures complexities of situations
  • reveals multiple perspectives
  • helps make sense of experiences
  • encourages self-review
  • helps to construct new knowledge.


Storytelling helps the learner to step into someone else’s shoes, to understand the impact of their actions and skills. Multimedia storytelling enhances this even more but you need to consider the best way to get the story across – whether that will be written, visual, audio, moving image, etc.

Think about the stories that will have the most impact on the learner.


Read more about multimedia storytelling: Empowering Students Through Multimedia Storytelling – Michael Hernandez


2.    Personality


One of the biggest fears that I heard at the start of lockdown when people had to quickly shift online was that their courses would lose the essence of ‘them’ as a trainer. That there would no longer be interaction, banter, anecdotes, etc.


There is still some belief that training has to be dry, boring, lacking life and personality BUT THAT IS NOT TRUE. Gone are the days of stale, text-heavy, jargon-filled learning.


Make your learning conversational and, if appropriate to your topic, do not be afraid to inject humour and personality. This increases relatability and makes the learner feel like they are engaging with people, rather than with a computer. It adds a human element. As long as it is appropriate to the subject and audience, and helps to demonstrate a point, put it in.


It will make the sessions more enjoyable, relatable, encourage interaction and memorable. It makes learners feel like you are one of them, open to conversation, and that you are more approachable for questions. It increases the psychological safety of the learners. They are less afraid to ask questions or say they do not understand.


Have fun with it. It comes across to the learners and helps increase positive feelings towards it.


3.    Variety


These days, learners expect a slick, user-friendly experience with lots of variety. You need to maintain interest with many competing demands and shorter attention spans.


You need to look at including variety in all of your content… your methods of delivery, your assessment types, the length of topics, etc. Get rid of the walls of text!


Think about the media types that you could use and where they may be appropriate.

For example, discussion boards, screencasts, videos, animations, workbooks, games, challenges, audio only, video, animation, reading material (online and offline), games, quizzes, live sessions, individual and paired/ team working…the list is endless.


One of the best ways to do this is to increase variety – ensure that they never quite know what to expect (be careful of the difference between variety and inconsistency though). And don’t just use a different media for the sake of it. Make sure your choices still fit your content, message and do not interrupt the flow.


We all like to learn in different ways, so provide choice, and flexibility…the possibilities are quite endless. Learning styles are somewhat discredited in the learning industry now BUT we have to acknowledge that most people do have some preference or other.


Mixing these choices together in a blended learning approach is key. If learners know they have to complete X, Y and Z before discussing it in a live group session, they are more likely to be motivated to complete it.


4.    Active and social


Active learning focuses on how students learn, not just on what they learn.


It encourages learners to take responsibility for their learning and to explore more avenues/in more depth than those provided. You as the trainer/educator still need to provide the groundwork; prompts, environment and clues as to how to direct their learning, but then the learners take charge. Particularly for HE and adult learning.


It encourages them to be active, rather than passive (where they turn up and the learning is done to them). They guide their own learning from prompts by the teacher. People do not learn by rote learning and being talked at, even though this is how our education system has basically told us to learn.


It also teaches them how to learn, so they can apply this further in other areas. It gives them the research skills, presentation skills etc to apply to all areas. It challenges their thinking and is therefore intellectually stimulating, helping them to stay engaged and enthused about the learning.


User-generated Content (UGC) is a significant trend now which has seen huge rise in learning completion when done well. It generates conversation, proactive behaviours, independent study skills and responsibility.


Secondly, we have social learning.


Social learning theory is a theory of learning process and social behaviour which proposes that new behaviours can be acquired by observing and imitating others.


Humans are by nature social creatures. Even the biggest introverts can benefit from learning with others. So look for ways to provide the opportunity to get learners to work together or collaborate to a shared outcome.


Also to encourage learners to give each other feedback rather than just getting it off yourself. Use discussion boards, Miro boards/Padlet/Jamboard, paired activities, Google docs…


Set a time limit, and clear directions, unless they know each other you may need to sort into pairs/teams and give a prompt to get them started/talking. But otherwise, they should be prompted to work together towards a solution or end goal.



5.    Relate to life


Adult learning theory states that adults learn better when we can immediately put our learning into practice and relate it to our roles in life – whether that is at work or at home.  Case studies, scenarios and context-specific learning help the learner understand how they can apply the information right now and in their context.


We need to know WHY we should do this learning – what will it do for us?  Why does it matter? What will happen if I get this wrong? Make sure your learning outcomes are linked to this.


Tell them the consequences of not doing the training (not in terms of discipline, but what could go wrong in the workplace, for example). Explain that it is everyone’s responsibility to do XYZ.

It works well as you are giving them a safe place to practise a skill before they are set loose somewhere where it may have consequences.

Read part 2 here:10 tips for increasing engagement in your training: 6-10