What Is Engagement?

When two people agree to marry each other, they are said to be ‘engaged.’ When you sign a contract with someone to DJ your office party, or landscape your yard, or build you a deck, you have ‘engaged’ their services. When you listen to an orator who captures and holds your attention, you might describe them later as an ‘engaging’ speaker.

Clearly, the word ‘engage’ connotes a certain level of commitment, whether that be of affection, time, money, services, or attention. The point is that once someone is ‘engaged,’ they do not veer off course. They (hopefully) stop dating other people, they show up when and where they say they will, they do what they are there to do, and their attention doesn’t wander.

As the first in a series of three articles about virtual corporate training engagement, we will explore what engagement means in terms of virtual training.   Why it’s so critical to virtual learning, and how facilitators promote engagement in a virtual training environment.

What Does Engagement Mean?

Some people mistakenly equate engagement with entertainment. However, while someone who is fully engaged in a task is not bored, they aren’t necessarily as entertained as they would be at, say, a rock concert. Engagement has more to do with commitment and less to do with enjoyment.

For instance, it’s conceivable that trainees who spent an entire session socializing with one another would say they enjoyed the experience … but they wouldn’t have engaged in learning. If your employees come away from a virtual training session having had a good time, but not having learned actionable skills, then you need to work on your engagement strategies.

In short, learning engagement is a measure of how successful a learning experience is for everyone involved. How committed are your learners to the tasks and activities at hand? That’s how engaged they are.

Why Is Engagement Crucial to Virtual Learning?

Engagement is crucial to all learning simply because people don’t learn against their will — they have to be committed to it. However, it’s perhaps even more crucial to virtual learning because the virtual training environment lacks certain key elements such as human contact and the feeling of connectivity to others.

What virtual trainers can’t provide in terms of interpersonal interaction they must make up for with activities designed to promote learner engagement. An engaged learner  is:

  • Actively involved in the process
  • Eager to participate
  • Willing to work hard
  • Motivated and inspired

How Facilitators Promote Engagement in a Virtual Learning Environment

How, then, do facilitators promote such engagement? Virtual teachers, trainers, and facilitators responded to a 2021 Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute survey with the following key strategies to promote virtual engagement:

  • Multiple content formats
  • Video/audio elements
  • Discussion forums, journals, and reflections
  • Interactive activities such as polls, quizzes, or games
  • Personalized enrichment options
  • Peer collaboration

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives a broad sample of the kinds of tactics facilitators find useful to provide robust learning opportunities in a virtual format.

In the next article, we will further discuss these strategies and how current virtual training methods are falling short of the mark in terms of fostering learner engagement.