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Want better learning engagement? Here are 7 strategies to use in your organization

  • 4 Min para leer

Engaged employees need to connect with a purpose and reach their potential through learning and targeted feedback.

How do you structure your learning programs to meet the needs of adult learners?  Does your organizational culture foster a growth mindset? These are concepts every organization should consider.  Psychologist Carol Dweck believes that thinking about new challenges with the “power of yet” helps people to think in terms of learning, instead of their current capabilities.  By embracing the belief that you have the power to improve, you can meet new challenges head on with an excitement to learn.

So how do we build programs that enable adult learners to put that growth mindset to work? To see improvement in performance, we must allow learners to stretch their boundaries through practice with targeted feedback.  This can be done by keeping seven important strategies in mind when structuring your programs – strategies that recognize where adults are coming from and enable them to practice new skills in a safe environment.  Overall, we want to facilitate a program or learning environment that helps learners progress to be fully engaged and productive employees (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Adapted from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Here are 7 strategies to consider when designing online learning for adult learners in today’s workplace: 


When adults choose for themselves to enter a training program (as opposed to assigned learning), they have a higher level of motivation to learn.  They appreciate a program that is structured systematically with clearly specified requirements (objectives). This helps in keeping their motivation, since they know where they are in the program and where they are going next.

In the online environment, make sure to:

  • Communicate clear learning paths
  • Ensure objectives are outlined
  • Consider enabling access to coaches or mentors to promote structure
  • Encourage the use of learning partners
  • Enable learners to create their own personal learning plan

Apply immediately:

Adults want to know how the material that will be taught will benefit them.  They expect the material to be relevant and to quickly grasp the practical use of the content.

In the online environment, make sure to:

  • Foster applicability via practical content
  • Integrate applicability questions
  • Encourage discussion with a mentor or coach
  • Enable interactivity and reflections via discussions
  • Use real-life examples


Time is an important consideration.  Adults expect the learning events to start and finish on schedule and they do not like to waste time.

In the online environment, make sure to:

  • Design learning into components or chunks
  • Indicate the estimated duration of each component in the description
  • Ensure optimum use of time via easy navigation and user-friendly interface:
    • Provide quick reference guides
    • Use single sign-on to avoid password fatigue
    • Make directions clear and easy to understand


Adults bring to a class their extensive experience from their personal and working lives.  These experiences should be used as major resources by helping students relate to the subject being studied.

In the online environment, make sure to:

  • Encourage collaboration
  • Entice learners to draw on their own experiences through exercises and reflection
  • Provide real-life scenarios


Many adults are self-directed and independent, while some lack confidence and need reassurance. Regardless, adults prefer that the instructor serve as a facilitator to guide and assist rather than an authoritarian leader.

In the online environment, make sure to:

  • Keep the tone appropriate to respect the perspective of the learner
  • Allow learners to choose their own learning path
  • Make coaches or mentors available to ask questions
  • Enable feedback – built into the course, through peers, through coaches


Adults want to participate in decision making.  They want to cooperate with the instructor in a mutual assessment of needs and goals, the choice of activities, and decisions on how to evaluate learning.

In the online environment, make sure to:

  • Enable extensive feedback prior to evaluation
  • Whenever possible, let the learner choose if they want to be evaluated
  • Use an encouraging tone for all feedback
  • Be clear on how learning records are stored and shared in your organization

Established routine:

Adults may be less flexible.  Their habits and methods of operation might have developed into a routine.  They are sensitive to being placed in embarrassing situations.  Before they accept a different way of doing something, they want to understand what the advantages would be.

In the online environment, make sure to:

  • Ensure new technologies are explained clearly, provide opportunities for practice and a safe environment to try new things
  • Include feedback in learning materials
  • Provide encouragement to learners
  • Be conscious of “Imposter Syndrome”
    • Adults may feel everyone else is more qualified to be there

People are able to develop continuously throughout their life and the major contributing factor to this development is their mindset.  As we create programs to foster growth in our organizations, it’s important to think about the mindset of our learners.  Let’s work to foster the power of yet!

If you are interested in learning more, check out our webinar Putting the learner first – Adult learner characteristics in the online environment.

Additional Resources:
Why CBE Works for the New Student Demographic
Learning is a Process, Not an Event
How to Engage the New Demographic of Students
Putting the Learner First

Further reading:
Why organizations don’t learn Harvard Business Review, November 2015
Making Sense of Adult Learning by D. Mackeracher (2004)
Planning Instruction for Adult Learners by P. Cranton (2012)
The Skillful Teacher by S. Brookfield (2015)
The Craft of Teaching Adults by T. Barer-Stein and J. Draper (2001)
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck (2007)
Designing Effective Instruction by Morrison, Ross, Kalman and Kemp (2013)

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