Instructional design Case studies Elearning Workplace training

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Best Practices for Employee Engagement and Online Course Completion

Claudia Buckley

Claudia Buckley

In the realm of corporate learning and development (L&D), many organizations face the challenge of engaging employees in online courses and ensuring high completion rates. With the advent of digital learning platforms, companies have the tools at their disposal to create flexible, accessible, and comprehensive training programs. Yet, despite these advances, keeping learners motivated and engaged to the point of course completion remains a hurdle. This article explores effective strategies and best practices that have led to notable successes in online learning, using insights from a detailed case study.

Read the full case study to learn more

Get to know the success story behind HRT's Leadership Education & Development program

The importance of engagement and completion rates

Engagement in online learning is multifaceted, encompassing learner interaction with course materials, instructors, and peers. A key indicator of successful engagement is the completion rate of courses, which signals not just participation but also the attainment of learning objectives. High completion rates are indicative of learners’ motivation and their achievement of set learning goals. Conversely, low completion rates may signal a disconnection with the course content, a lack of motivation, or barriers to understanding.

The emphasis on course completion rates is twofold. Firstly, in scenarios requiring compliance or regulatory training, achieving a 100% completion rate is often mandatory. Secondly, completion rates serve as a metric for assessing whether organizations are meeting their broader goals of workforce skill development and maintaining a competitive edge in the market. The shift towards online training, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has underscored the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of elearning. However, it has also highlighted the challenge of low completion rates, with studies indicating rates as low as 12% for some online offerings.

A case in point: Hampton Roads Transit's approach to L&D

Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), a public transportation service in Virginia, USA, serves as a prime example of an organization that has effectively tackled these challenges. With approximately 1,000 employees, HRT embarked on a mission to revitalize its training and development strategy by leveraging its learning management system (LMS) to boost employee engagement and course completion rates.

Identifying training needs and objectives

The organization’s journey began with the identification of a critical need for a structured training program aimed at enhancing leadership skills within the team. This need was coupled with the realization that many managers lacked formal training in essential technical skills, such as Microsoft Office applications, which were pivotal for their daily tasks. Additionally, there was a clear desire among team members for professional and personal development opportunities.

Strategic execution of the L.E.A.D. training program

To address these needs, HRT utilized the GoSkills LMS to launch the Leadership Education and Development Program (L.E.A.D.). This initiative was marked by a strategic approach that included performing a skills gap analysis, assigning relevant courses with completion deadlines, and enabling managers to track progress through the LMS. A standout feature of the program was the flexibility it offered learners to enroll in any course within the GoSkills library that interested them, beyond their assigned curriculum.

Read the full case study to learn more

Get to know the success story behind HRT's Leadership Education & Development program

Boosting engagement through practical learning and flexibility

A significant shift in HRT’s training approach was moving away from traditional, often tedious, learning methods to more engaging and practical ones. The organization recognized that learning effectiveness was greatly enhanced when the material was directly applicable to the learners’ job roles and when it provided tangible benefits to their daily tasks. This approach was supported by microlearning principles, where content is delivered in small, manageable segments that fit easily into the learners’ schedules.

Utilizing LMS features to enhance learning experience

A pivotal aspect of HRT’s success was its adept use of the LMS’s features to create a personalized and interactive learning environment. This included gamification elements such as badges and coins to motivate learners, as well as comprehensive analytics that allowed for the tracking of progress and engagement levels. These features not only made learning more enjoyable but also provided valuable data to further refine and target the training programs.

Results and implications

The results of HRT’s revamped L&D strategy were compelling. The organization witnessed a remarkable increase in course completion rates, with learners in the L.E.A.D. program achieving a 69% completion rate, significantly higher than the average for online courses. This success was attributed to a combination of factors, including the relevance and practical application of the course content, the flexibility offered to learners, and the effective use of LMS features to track and encourage progress.

Lessons learned and best practices

Engaging employees in online learning and achieving high completion rates is a complex challenge that requires a multifaceted approach. Hampton Roads Transit’s experience demonstrates that through strategic planning, the smart use of technology, and taking into account what learners need and prefer, organizations can not only boost L&D effectiveness but also fortify their learning culture, further enhancing overall employee engagement.

An engaged employee is more likely to be an engaged learner.

strong learning culture diagram
The interplay of learner engagement, course completion, and strong learning culture

The case of Hampton Roads Transit provides several key takeaways for organizations looking to enhance their online training programs. These include:

  1. Relevance and practicality: Courses that are directly applicable to the learners’ job roles and offer immediate benefits tend to engage learners more effectively.
  2. Flexibility and choice: Allowing learners to choose courses that interest them or are relevant to their career goals can significantly increase motivation and completion rates.
  3. Effective use of LMS features: Leveraging LMS tools such as gamification, analytics, and personalized learning paths can greatly enhance the learning experience and outcomes.
  4. Microlearning: Adopting microlearning principles, where content is delivered in short, manageable segments, can fit learning into busy schedules and improve retention.
  5. Feedback and adaptation: Continuous gathering of learner feedback and adaptation of training programs based on this feedback and data analytics are crucial for sustained success.

Boosting engagement and completion rates on your team

Are you tasked with designing effective elearning programs for your employees? Then the challenges faced by Hampton Roads Transit may seem all too familiar. Your effectiveness as a leader may even be measured by the learning experiences and outcomes of your employees. Rather than throwing random methods at the wall and seeing which ones stick, you'll get a headstart if you use strategies that have been proven to work for others.

By adopting the best practices outlined in this study, you can create more engaging, effective, and rewarding learning experiences for your team, contributing to greater job satisfaction, personal and professional development, and your organization’s success.

Looking for more engagement ideas? Learn how Balsam Brands fosters a learning culture across continents.

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This study was published as an academic paper.

Buckley, C., & Castro Jorge, M. F. (2024). Best Practices for Increasing Employee Engagement and Completion Rates in Online Courses: A Case Study on Creating a Culture of Learning. International Journal of Advanced Corporate Learning (iJAC)17(1), pp. 4–12.

Claudia Buckley

Claudia Buckley

Claudia is a project manager and business skills instructor at GoSkills. In her spare time, she reads mystery novels and does genealogy research.