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4 Reasons for Low Training Participation (and How to Change it)

Are your corporate training programs not driving your desired level of engagement? Learn why and how you can fix it.

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How important are learning and development (L&D) opportunities to companies today? In the United States, workforce training expenditures surpass $82 billion each year — underscoring the clear value that organizations place on learning.

And when companies make large investments in their training programs, it follows that they want to realize the return on their investment — making sure employees are actively participating and ultimately demonstrating mastery. When you have low training participation rates, that can translate to an ill-prepared workforce and negatively impact productivity.

Conversely, when employees do engage with training, there are myriad benefits. According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report, nearly nine in 10 learning leaders say L&D has helped their organization adapt to change, and “opportunities to learn and grow” are cited as the No. 1 driver of a great work culture. What’s more, well-executed training positively impacts employee retention and profit margins.

Related: How to Evaluate if Your Corporate Training is Working

Today, with many remote and hybrid workforces, more and more training initiatives are moving online. If you’re seeing low participation in your online programs, you can turn it around! Here are four reasons participation may be lagging — and what to do about it.

1. You’re not addressing the root cause

It sounds obvious, right? If participation isn’t optimal, you need to find out why.

You can do this by surveying employees to get their feedback. Conduct a training needs assessment among employees to understand what type of training is needed and why. Compare feedback from leaders as well.

There are many reasons why employees may not be completing their training. In my previous experience as a corporate trainer, the most common ones are:

  • Training content is too long. Employees have a lot to fit in their days. Training is often most successful and easily squeezed in when it’s bite-sized “micro-learning" — think five-minute chunks or less.
  • The user experience isn’t intuitive. Make sure employees know how to access learning content and complete their training journeys. Technology that’s highly visual and provides an easy, unencumbered user experience can help.
  • Training isn’t aligned with job roles. If that’s the case, employees often wonder: what’s the point? Ensure training is relevant and isn’t viewed as a “one-and-done” activity. That is, when employees learn a new skill or competency, reinforce that with follow-up activities. The skill should also be timely — aligned to activities that employees will soon be expected to perform.
  • Training isn’t accessible. Training should be inclusive and accessible to employees, including those with disabilities. It should also be centrally available to employees, so there’s no question about where to find it.
  • Training isn’t integrated into the flow of work. Look for opportunities to incorporate learning opportunities into the way work gets done. This often means taking advantage of user-generated content and social learning opportunities.
  • Training isn’t convenient. For live training sessions, it’s often a hassle to get schedules to align, especially among large, global workforces. And inevitably, last-minute conflicts and work “fire drills” arise, pulling employees’ attention away. So when training primarily involves one-way information delivery, take advantage of asynchronous (on-demand) methods instead. Then, employees can complete training when it’s most convenient for them.

Related: 3 Ways to Coach a Hybrid Workforce

2. You’ve left out the “why” of training

When it comes to training, what’s in it for your employees? Tell them.

Let’s say you’re hosting a session on a new email sorting method. Explain why it’s a productivity booster and how it will save them time. Or, if employees need to complete skills training, highlight how it will help them advance in their careers and apply for higher positions internally.

Before training, you can send out “teasers” via email campaigns and messaging platforms to spread awareness and get employees excited. Also, consider posting online banners within your learning platform and on internal portals.

3. Your training is too cookie-cutter

Whether you’re watching a TV show or a training module, do you like content that’s generic and out-of-touch with your interests and needs? Employees don’t either. For them, taking courses that are irrelevant to their duties at hand or that address skills they’ve already mastered leads to boredom and disengagement.

People are much more likely to consume training when it matches their unique goals, aptitudes and interests — so personalize their learning journeys. Fortunately, nowadays that’s not an onerous, one-by-one endeavor. With the help of artificial intelligence (AI), learners can get automatic, tailored learning recommendations that reflect their course histories, career goals, skills mastered, duties in their roles, interests, ambitions and more.

Personalized training means moving beyond just compliance too. While compliance training is no doubt important, employees greatly value skills training to help them do their jobs.

Related: 5 Training Lessons Companies Have Learned From the Pandemic

4. Your training is not fun

Training doesn’t have to — and shouldn’t — be monotonous. Go for inspiring, engaging and fun; that’s far more likely to be memorable.

You can increase the fun factor by adding variety, incorporating a range of materials and modalities that appeal to different learning preferences. Don’t rely only on PDFs, PowerPoints and standard, written courses — enable employees to listen to podcasts, pose questions to forums, participate in Q&A discussions, watch videos, share articles and more.

Guest speakers with relevant perspectives, know-how and anecdotes can also make training programs more interesting. They’re not just for big-budget companies; small businesses, too, often bring in subject-matter experts, consultants, university professors and others to share their knowledge.

Gamification — or introducing game elements into learning design — makes learning fun as well. Badges, incentives and low-key, good-spirited competition combine to pique learners’ interest and increase participation.

Related: Why You Should Personalize Corporate Learning With AI

There’s no standard, single solution for increasing learner engagement. Among other things, it depends on the type of training being delivered and, of course, the needs of your workforce. It also helps to put yourself in the learners’ shoes and think about how you’d respond to the learning program at hand: with relish, interest, acquiescence, a “meh” attitude or aversion? Then, figure out ways to make the learning experience better.

Adopting a flexible approach, continuously evaluating your efforts and incorporating the tips above can go a long way in driving learner motivation, participation and retention — and make you confident your training programs are having an impact.

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