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What is Learner Engagement?

Posted by Steve Flanagan on 9/3/18 8:00 AM
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I drove past my local town hall recently. The electronic sign read, “New Resident Engagement Platform. Join the conversation now.” I thought to myself, “What an interesting term—engagement platform.” It seems that everywhere we go people are talking about “engagement.” Whether it’s resident engagement, employee engagement, or learner engagement.


A quick google search of training websites and bloggers tells us that engagement is a new approach to training, and the measurement of good training is “learner engagement.”


When learners are engaged in learning experiences they feel:

  • Challenged
  • Successful
  • Heard
  • Supported through meaningful feedback
  • In control of their learning


In addition to these feelings of engagement, learners need learning experiences that are:

  • Relevant
  • Timely
  • Personalized
  • Beneficial


I have no argument with any of the above, however, when I look at the traditional principles of adult learning developed by Malcolm Knowles in the 1970’s, the characteristics of the new “engagement” approach, and what we've been doing in training for many years, seem quite similar. Malcolm Knowles’ book, “The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development” is, admittedly, a long read, but beyond all the adult learning theory, it all boils down to the seven basic principles of adult learning:

1. Experience - Adults bring considerable experience with them. Therefore, they wish to speak, participate, and contribute to the proceedings. They dislike long lectures and one-way communication.

2. Self-Esteem - Adults have something to lose. They have a strong need to maintain their self-esteem. Therefore, they should be listened to and set up for success in training.

3. Relevance - Adults want courses that focus on real-life problems and tasks rather than academic material. A strong how-to focus is desired. They become restless if their time is being wasted.

4. Benefit - Adults see learning as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. They must know what there is to gain and they must see progress being made.

5. Time Orientation - Adults have a here-and-now viewpoint and wish to focus on current issues rather than material that may be useful in the distant future.

6. Participation - Adults are accustomed to being active. They should be given an opportunity for active participation whenever possible.

7. Self-Direction - Adults are accustomed to being self-directed. They have expectations and wants that need to be met. Instructors must consult and work with adults rather than be too directive.


For as much as these principles are the same as “engagement,” I do acknowledge the way in which we achieve these principles might be different based on generation and the training technology being used. An in-depth discussion is for another day! Why are we so quick to question what we are doing and then reinvent what already works? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic!  


The principles of adult learning are so important, we discuss them in every one of our train-the-trainer workshops!


Tips for Success in the Virtual Classroom

Steve has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physical Education and dreamed of being a pro soccer player. Steve translated his love of soccer and physical performance to the corporate sector and became a trainer. He’s had the pleasure of training within the government, large corporations, and as an independent consultant. Outside of training, Steve’s two biggest passions are his family and guitars, which he collects and plays!

Tags: adult learning principles

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Our very own world-class course leaders share their experiences, tips, best practices, and expertise on virtual training, instructional design, needs analysis, e-learning, delivery, evaluation, presentation skills, facilitation, and much more!

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