I was pleased to be presenting a masterclass at the Innovative Learning conference in London this month. Having been there last year, I noticed a significant difference in the conversations I was holding with other delegates.

Last year, everyone was talking about the impact of cuts and the main focus was on reducing costs. This year, the recurring theme in conversations was the need to really engage learners and to move away from provision of learning which does not deliver that engagement. That started me thinking more deeply about what engagement actually is; it’s easy to use such terms glibly but how do we recognise it and can we then measure it. Learning management systems provide a great deal of reporting functionality – but interestingly I haven’t seen a report on engagement yet!


Forbes magazine this week had an article by one of their contributors, Kevin Kruse. My interest was captured by his view on measuring engagement. Kevin said: “It is complicated because engagement is a feeling, just like love is a feeling”. He then points out how difficult it is to measure love – how do we quantify that? Kevin goes on to discuss how people who are deeply in love do however exhibit certain recognisable behaviours. For instance talking endlessly about their partner, and how good their relationship is. They devote a high degree of emotional energy to that relationship. So rather than trying to measure the feeling, we should look for the specific behaviours which engagement will lead to.

Willie Cruickshank, director of Norfolk & Suffolk Dementia Alliance, spoke about this in a recent video interview. Cruickshank explained that individuals can learn about the disease of dementia from a book, but when a person sits down and talk to someone living with dementia then they are affected emotionally. Standard eLearning tools fail to deliver on that emotional element.  So he has invested in delivering a series of interactive online experiences on the subject of dementia. These interactive experiences were designed to help employees in commercial outlets and care homes to understand how they can support members of the public who are living with dementia. In essence it delivers that emotional experience essential to deep learner engagement.

From compliance to commitment

Learning Futures is a programme redesigning the approach to engaging school children. It describes how traditionally schools have been focused on ‘compliance and achievement’ and the aim now is to ‘move from compliance to commitment’. I think that also very adequately describes our experience in the learning industry, where ensuring compliance and measuring achievement have featured strongly on past agendas.

A colleague of mine is involved in delivering training to air traffic controllers and I was interested in his views on this topic. How does he measure the level of engagement of the trainees?  Surely air traffic control is not a place where emotions play a part?

He strongly asserted that compliance and achievement were not sufficient for air traffic controllers to demonstrate competency. He has to be able to recognise the behaviours that will prove that the controllers have achieved more than competency; they need to demonstrate a deep engagement with all aspects of the course. During training, my colleague will be looking for these emotional indicators of understanding that will convince him the controllers will be able to make concise judgements on an infinitely variable number of factors, in almost unthinkably short timescales.

Business metrics is increasingly playing a greater role in every day functions and can provide vital information about an organisations performance. In the case of learning and development, perhaps rather than solely focusing on all the various business metrics that we can obtain from our LMS, we may need to incorporate a way of capturing the behaviours and emotional indicators that will demonstrate our learners are fully engaged – and then the up skilling will follow.

Sarah Frame is EMEA development director at Toolwire. She can be contacted athttp://www.toolwire.com