Think Like A Marketer: 6 Tips For Building Learning Engagement Prior To Training

Think Like a Marketer: 6 Tips For Building Learning Engagement Prior To Training
Natee Meepian/
Summary: Learning engagement is always a top priority, but Learning and Development professionals are missing out on a key engagement opportunity. Take a nod from the marketing field by using time-tested tactics to drive learning engagement before training even kicks off.

Building Learning Engagement Prior To Training

The Learning and development Field has a lot to learn from marketing. Think about it: One of the biggest challenges facing any training initiative is engaging employees in the material. If they don’t feel the training has a purpose, they’ll be less likely to use the training on the job. Marketers have been addressing the issue of “buy-in” since before the word “marketing” existed. Products don’t sell unless the customer feels compelled and takes action.

With L&D professionals facing an uphill battle to gain learner buy-in, why not take a lesson from the marketing handbook to create hype around training initiatives? Countless research articles spell out best practices for engaging the learner before and after the training event, but marketing principles suggest we should be building anticipation before employees even enter the learning environment.

Consider the music industry. Artists traditionally release a single or two well in advance of a new album’s debut, attracting fans and creating conversation before the release date. Singles are often followed by a music video, hinting at the visual tone of what’s to come, sending news sites and bloggers into a frenzy, fostering even more excitement. But it doesn’t stop there. The artist kicks it up a notch by making appearances on talk shows, performing at award shows, and so on. Finally, the new album is released to the public with massive sales numbers.

Just as record studios slowly publicize teasers across a variety of media, Learning and Development managers should essentially develop a marketing strategy for their training initiative to gain buy-in before the learner enters the training space.

6 Tactics To Engage Employees Prior To Training

1. Create Learner Personas

The first step to any marketing campaign is knowing who you’re actually selling to. Marketers call these buyer personas. Creating a learner persona will help you assess your employees needs to determine the best way to motivate them. No one wants to take training they feel doesn’t have apply to their work, so do your research ahead of time. Conduct a thorough training needs assessment with learner personas in mind to determine which topics need to be covered.

2. Execute A Promotional Campaign

Think like a marketer. If your company had an upcoming product launch, the marketing team would probably create a communication plan with at least three to five messages about the launch, spread across different channels. With your training initiative, consider: how will you promote the training? How will you convey the benefits?

Flex your creative muscles! Develop a series of messages across multiple platforms. Perhaps release a “music video” of sorts, either via email or the company intranet. If your training features storytelling, incorporate that character into a short promo clip. Take it a step further by releasing a “single,” a kind of trial-run of the eLearning in which employees can follow the character through one scenario in the eLearning and answer a couple questions, but are then met with a “to be continued” type message. That’s how all those gaming apps get so many downloads, so it only makes sense to adapt the methodology for training and development.

If your program doesn’t have a protagonist character, what about modifying the talk show route? Gain buy-in by releasing a video of senior executives sharing their excitement for the new initiative. Demonstrating executive support has a trickle down effect. Think outside the box. The sky is the limit, as the old cliché goes.

3. Incorporate Storytelling

Brainstorm how you’ll tie the complete training experience together, from beginning to end. One way to do this (and maybe the most effective) is via storytelling. The “hero’s journey” (a narrative structure with a relatable and predictable story arc) is a popular industry go-to, and for good reason. When following this structure, a powerful and engaging story is always the outcome. When preparing employees for training, starting with the hero’s journey might provide the path.

4. Set Standards

Childcare experts have long espoused the belief that if you set high standards, children will exceed them. Adult learning isn’t much different. You can help your employees achieve the desired outcomes by simply telling them what you expect them to learn before they even start the learning experience. By doing so, you’re focusing their attention on the purpose of the training and its application to their role. Take the extra minute and don’t leave the learner to guess what you’re hoping to achieve.

5. Make It Fun

People have been playing games since the beginning of time, and gamification isn’t only fun, but hands the control back to the learner. However, game playing tends to show up only when an employee enters the learning environment. Why wait? Change the game (pun intended) and incorporate the concept prior to training kickoff.

Scavenger hunts are crowd pleasers for young and old alike. Provide employees with a list of information they need to find prior to training, whether by scouring the company’s website or talking to coworkers. If your team has a competitive streak, offer some sort of reward for the person who fills in the most blanks once training starts.

If those aren’t right for your team, consider the Kahoot app. It’s free to sign up and offers customizable quizzes in the same vein as bar trivia games. Participants answer a question and receive points based on how quickly they responded with a leaderboard displayed after each question. With Kahoot, you could offer a pre-training test of sorts (perhaps using the information found in the scavenger hunt) and engage learners in the material without ever having to leave their desk, since they access the game via a mobile device.

6. Embrace Social Learning

Social learning is exactly what it sounds like: learning from other people. Whether sitting across the conference room table from one another or on the other side of the globe, social learning fosters a sense of community. As social creatures who love feeling like part of a group, incorporating social learning into your learning marketing strategy only benefits the initiative.

Text-based methods like wikis, social media, and discussion boards are commonly used, but think beyond the standard tools. Prior to training, an employee could upload a video from their mobile device describing how they would handle a situation relevant to the training topic. Then other learners could offer feedback on what they might do differently or what they learned from their peer.

Final Word

Avoid the groans and eyerolls that come with announcing yet another compliance training as an afterthought at the close of a staff meeting. Amp up the excitement and anticipation by taking a nod from our marketing friends and developing a learning marketing strategy. Take the time to explain the training’s relevancy, how it will increase efficiency, and impact their daily duties.

Creating a learning marketing strategy using simple pre-training engagement tactics can significantly improve employee attitudes toward training. Waiting until the the training event has started to get learners engaged is a missed opportunity.