The LMS Features That Drive Employee Engagement
IndustryView | 2014
According to a recent Gallup poll, only 30 percent of full-time employees in the United States feel engaged or inspired at work—a problem that has had lingering effects on productivity, worker retention and overall performance. One solution that has sprung up in recent years to combat this trend is the rise of learning management systems (LMSs): software systems that promote continual education in the workplace. Just this year, the corporate LMS market grew by over 21 percent.
But while the market has grown, companies are having trouble encouraging ongoing usage. In fact, 67 percent of organizations say that user engagement is the top barrier to adopting technology-enabled training. One reason for this could be the lack of compelling functionality: Only 39 percent of LMS users in a recent survey gave their system’s feature set a high rating.
So what might get workers to engage more with their company’s LMS? We surveyed full-time employees to see what popular LMS elements they would use most, and what would encourage them to use their company’s online learning tools more often.
One growing trend in LMSs is “micro-learning.” As the name implies, micro-learning is a structure for content and courses that calls for smaller lessons and shorter activities and assessments. An example of this would be taking one hour-long lesson and dividing it up into 12 “mini-lessons.”
We asked employees if they would be more encouraged to use their company’s online training tools if the content was broken up into lots of short, five- to seven-minute lessons, as opposed to a few hour-long lessons. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they would be more likely to use the LMS if it incorporated these shorter lessons. Only 11 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to use LMS technology with shorter lessons.
Mark Clare, founder of New Value Streams Consulting and an adjunct professor of cognitive design at Northwestern University, says micro-learning works because it is more in line with how our brains perceive and store information.
“Micro-learning is a necessary step in the cognitive process of learning from experience or making behavior changes,” Clare says. “Part of the popularity of blogs, tweets and YouTube is that they provide the micro-content that is more properly sized to the limitations of learning processes. They fit how our minds naturally work.”
Not only does micro-learning benefit the learner, Clare says, it is also a better investment for the company.
“Micro-lessons can be fused into work processes more easily,” Clare explains. “They are less risky to try because they are a small step. Micro-learning provides faster feedback, and can actually accelerate the overall learning process. The information is easy to share, so you can spawn community or collaborative learning effects easier than [through] traditional training.”
However, Clare points out one issue to keep in mind for companies that incorporate micro-learning: tying the small bits of knowledge into a meaningful whole, so that workers can fully engage with their learning.
“A major challenge in facilitating micro-learning is making sure the smaller chunks accumulate into significant competency and skills over the long run,” Clare says. “Many educators and trainers do not know how to do that, and so the experience can result in shallow or trivial learning.”
Another big trend in LMS right now is gamification: the concept of applying gaming concepts to non-gaming activities. Functions you would normally see in video games—e.g., point systems, leaderboards and badges—have been added to many LMS systems in recent years, and can help incentivize workers to interact with their company’s LMS.
Brian Burke, vice president of research at Gartner and author of the book “Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People To Do Extraordinary Things,” says gamification has benefits for both employers and employees.
“The benefits to the organization are increasing employee skill and knowledge, while employees benefit from increased job satisfaction, growth and personal achievement,” Burke says. “Gamification can make learning more engaging and effective, if employees first connect with the learning goal.”
But what aspects of gamification do employees find most enticing? Of those surveyed, 35 percent said that real-life rewards based on learning progress would be the top gamification incentive for using their company’s LMS, followed by level progression (25 percent) and awarding points for completed tasks (25 percent). Other popular gamification elements, such as user avatars (8 percent) and leaderboards to compare progress with other employees (7 percent), were less of a draw.
It makes sense that real-life rewards would win out, but managers don’t have to start giving out cars or money to get their employees to pursue online education and training. One example of this is IBM. Through its “Know Your IBM” program, employees earn points for completing online training modules, to be redeemed for such rewards as reloadable gift cards or personal electronics.
However, Burke warns that the engagement and motivation benefits from prizes may be short-lived.
“People may interpret ‘real-life rewards’ as valuable prizes, while others may interpret [‘rewards’] as job progression,” Burke says. “The former tends to motivate people in the short term, while job progression will motivate people in the long term.”
One reason leaderboards may rank so low, he adds, is that features promoting competition can actually have a negative engagement effect.
“In my experience, competition can de-motivate a large segment of the target audience,” Burke says. “Collaborative gamification solutions tend to be more effective in training applications, since the business objective is to transfer skills to the entire target audience—not just a small group of ‘winners.’”
Stemming from the massive growth of social media over the past decade, the implementation of social learning tools (such as blogs, polls and forums) is another trend in online learning. Since 88 percent of millennial workers prefer a collaborative work culture over a competitive one, it stands to reason that social learning could help encourage these younger employees—who are expected to make up 40 percent of the working population by 2020—to use their company’s LMS.
With that in mind, we asked employees what social learning module they would be most likely to use within their company’s LMS. Twenty-four percent of respondents said that discussion boards would be their preferred module, followed closely by content sharing (23 percent) and the ability to view or give ratings for courses and lessons (21 percent).
Discussion boards have multiple benefits for learning in a classroom setting, so it follows that these would also apply to social learning. Benefits include increased participation, community-building and saving faculty members time answering questions—and these all translate to employees and managers in a corporate setting.
According to Charles Coy, senior director of analyst and community relations at Cornerstone OnDemand (which offers a talent management suite with an e-learning application, Cornerstone Learning), discussion boards have the added benefit of allowing employees to draw on the knowledge of other colleagues from anywhere in the world.
“Say I work for a big company and I don’t necessarily know who has this expertise,” Coy says. “I can ask this question into a broad community, and I might get connected back with the lady who works in the Tokyo office, who also happens to be working on the same kind of thing—[which] I wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise.”
The ability to rate courses and lessons, Coy adds, can present an opportunity for employees to provide valuable feedback on the content being offered, while also encouraging them to engage more broadly with the company’s LMS.
“The idea of rating learning courses in the same way that you would rate a book on Amazon has two benefits,” Coy says. “One, the good or popular courses bubble to the top. Two, it encourages people to go back in after they’ve completed something they thought was useful to let their colleagues know about it. They can earn a ‘top-reviewer’ status.”
Realizing that employees who learn at work may be too tied to their desks, many learning management systems have enabled lessons and learning content to be accessed on a smartphone or tablet. With 15 percent of all global online video hours being watched on these sorts of devices, it would make sense that employees would want this option.
Thus, we asked our survey-takers if they would be more likely to use their company’s online training and education tools if they could access the material on a mobile device. A combined 48 percent of respondents say they would be “more likely” to use an LMS with smartphone or tablet access, followed closely by respondents saying mobile access would make “no difference” in their usage of the software (39 percent).
While employees may prefer mobile access to an LMS primarily for convenience, Coy says smartphone and tablet access also allows for contextual learning. This, he notes, is vitally important to boosting employees’ engagement with these systems.
“Learning now needs to be contextual or embedded—to happen at the moment of need,” Coy says. “That old-fashioned training administration system is the absolute opposite of that. It’s basically spitting out something that you don’t want, at a moment that you probably don’t need it. The learning needs to be given to me in a place and time when I can use it. That place and time could be with a mobile device.”
Particular employees, such as those in retail, could benefit greatly by learning as they work, rather than treating learning as a separate, outside task. An example could be someone in management training who needs to learn new things while still being out on the floor.
As to the large percentage of respondents who say that mobile access wouldn’t affect their LMS usage, one reason could be the need for a work/life balance. As Gallup found in a recent survey, employees using mobile technology for work tended to have higher stress levels.
There is a reason such trends as gamification, social learning and micro-learning are growing in the LMS space: They are effective at promoting employee usage. But regardless of what incentives are used, the LMS will need to overcome a bigger image problem to be seen as a valuable resource outside of initial onboarding.
“Probably the biggest reason that people don’t use it is that it’s mostly been associated with the drudgery of compliance training,” Coy says. “For the most part, these LMSs have a bad reputation as being a place [users] don’t want to go; a system [they] probably only touch once or twice a year.”
But the times have changed. Coy believes two major shifts are pushing companies to see the value of a learning management system as beyond basic compliance training.
“For one, learning has changed,” Coy says. “HR departments have realized that the value of learning goes deeper than just checking off those compliance boxes. And second, the technology has changed. That clunky training administration LMS of 2002 is different now: The software is more engaging; it’s more consumerized. ... Now, everybody’s trying to get employees to use learning software more broadly—if not on a daily basis, then on a weekly or monthly basis instead of once or twice a year.”
If employers are looking for ways to promote the usage of their online learning tools, they would be wise to seek out systems with these popular and engaging LMS elements.
To find the data in this report, we conducted an online survey and gathered 385 responses from random full-time employees within the United States. We worded the questions to ensure that each respondent fully understood their meaning and the topic at hand.
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