Does Engagement Lead to Actual Learning? – Workshop Tip #244

Share this article

We often hear the word “engagement” when we talk about designing and delivering effective learning. 

Within a learning context, engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, and passion that learners show when they are in the process of learning. Learning can be in the form of eLearning, live classroom, virtual and remote training, and other modes of learning delivery.

There are other definitions of the word engagement in the workplace. For example, in Organizational Development speak, engagement refers to the people who are actively involved or engaged in activities. Another definition of engagement relates to surveys done to gauge employee engagement, or connection, in the workplace.

From the perspective of Workflow Learning however, the use of the word “engagement” may not be equally relevant. Learners (workers) are expected to address real work issues. They are already engaged in the “thinking through” processes which lead them to desired solutions and results. They have a vested interest in outcomes and for them, engagement means being committed to these outcomes.

For now, let’s go back to our definition of engagement within a learning context.

When we consider the idea of engaged learners, do we assume they are automatically learning? Are scholars leading to something when they point out how “engagement” has become the word that is most often used, yet the least understood word in learning? Why do we suddenly question our understanding of this simple term?

Engagement can be viewed as the first step to get our learners “into the pool to get wet” with learning, so to speak. This may not necessarily result in learning, but it is an initial step. In the article, Engagement – most used yet most misunderstood word in learning?, Donald Clark describes engagement as a double-edged sword. He lists learning situations where engagement is invoked, but learning doesn’t necessarily take place.

Engaged but not learning
Engaged but simply going through things they already know
Engaged but doing harm to learning
Engaged and learning

Donald Clark further asserts that Learning Designers must be careful not to allow engagement that is too “easy,” as it could likely lead to forgetting. Learning experiences should be designed to be challenging. In his article he states:

Accordingly, true long-term learning requires “desirable” (accomplishable) and “difficult” learning with real effort for high retention. It’s in the struggle, failure, and overcoming of difficulty that fruitful learning takes place. Without this, it is the reason why so much online learning fails in its learning techniques. To combat this situation, consider these four techniques in Workflow Learning:

Have an active practice which includes effortful learning
Allow failure and making errors as a critical component of successful learning
Consider interleaving or mixing things up
Encourage “generative learning” – an active, effortful process where the learner generates meaning between “what they already know” and “the new knowledge.” Generative learning is an extension of rehearsal in the mind and retrieval practice.

In Summary

Engagement is an important facet in motivating learners/workers to apply their learning on the job. However, the real task is to ask managers/leaders in the workplace to demonstrate the practice of purposeful and effortful processes of learning. This requires more than just designing and delivering “engaging” training sessions and learning assets.

We should be able to see that learners/workers are able to understand, comprehend, and importantly, apply the knowledge they’ve gained during their training into their actual jobs.

This where true engagement pays off.


Clark, Donald (October 2020), Engagement – most used yet most misunderstood word in learning?

Gallup (2020), What Is Employee Engagement and How Do You Improve It? 

Tip #182 – Curious Language Sparks Learning Engagement

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *