How to tell whether your online training is sticking with trainees
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How to tell whether your online training is sticking with trainees

Businesses have learned a lot about working in an online environment in this time of global pandemic. We now know, for instance, that it’s a waste of time to ask your 14-year-old not to traipse through the background on the way to the fridge while you’re at the kitchen table for a Zoom call!

Meantime, online learning has also come to the forefront as schools have been obliged to convert programs to fit the virtual world. These experiences with virtual learning benefit educators, of course, but also contain lessons for those who are involved in training members of our business organizations.

One of these lessons is that some very important factors of learner engagement that apply to learning in physical spaces also apply, with appropriate modifications, to virtual learning spaces.

3 areas of learner engagement

According to research by the federal Institute of Education Science, learning leaders and facilitators need to address three main areas of learner engagement in order to ensure that the learning sticks: behavioral engagement, cognitive engagement, and emotional engagement.

In other words, teachers and trainers need to concern themselves with what students and trainees are doing to engage with course materials, what they’re thinking about the material, and how they’re feeling about their learning experience.

(The research comes out of the school classroom environment, but since geneticists inform us that adults share quite a lot of DNA with the teen and pre-teen species, it’s a safe bet that it applies to the training of adults, too!)

Various ways exist of measuring a trainee’s degree of engagement in each of the three areas. Some of these carry over well from the physical training space to the virtual space, some don’t.

In an article published by EdSurge, a Silicon Valley educational technology company, the authors offer a list of factors that teachers/trainers can measure to judge how connected their students/trainees are with the online learning experience.

Behavioral engagement

To gauge behavioral engagement, trainers can look at:

  • How much time a trainee spends on a learning module
  • How often a trainee logs in to a course site
  • How regularly a trainee engages with the course material — does the trainee engage consistently over time, or “cram” in spurts
  • How many assignments the trainee completes
  • How much the trainee participates in online discussion forums

Cognitive engagement

To gauge cognitive engagement, trainers can look at:

  • How trainees perform on assignments
  • How trainees interact in discussion threads and/or synchronous sessions — do they grasp the material well enough to discuss it
  • What words/language trainees use in online forums

Emotional engagement

To gauge emotional engagement, trainers can look at:

  • Trainees’ expressed satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the course and trainer
  • Emotive language cues trainees use live and in forums
  • How trainees interact with trainer and other trainees

Take your choice

Online trainers may not be able, or may not want, to use all these measurements in every case. That’s fine. But if it’s important to gauge trainee engagement in a physical setting, it’s even more important to do it in a virtual setting where the ties between trainer and trainee are necessarily more attenuated than in the “real” world.


Based on “Measuring Student Engagement in Upper Elementary Through High School: a Description of 21 Instruments,” REL 2011-No. 098

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