Young Adult Learners & Engagement: What's the Deal?

Posted by Katelind Hays on Oct 27, 2016 5:04:40 PM
Katelind Hays

BYTE Session Recap

37507571_s.jpgAs learning professionals, we have the immense responsibility of teaching a more diverse group of learners than ever before. For the first time ever, organizations have four generations in the workforce. All of them have unique skills and preferences. How do we create programs that support all of participants, especially Millennials who keenly and intuitively use technology? Jennifer Hofmann, President of InSync Training, recently explained how to engage modern learners with our BYTE audience.

This blog post will define learner engagement and how it relates to young adult learners. For more information about the modern classroom, learning environments, and specific steps for creating engaging modern learning programs, watch Jennifer’s BYTE recording, Learner Engagement in the Modern Classroom

Learner Engagement Defined

In order to understand how engagement relates to young learners, we first must understand what engagement means in virtual and blended learning. InSync Training has been conducting a lot of research into learner engagement and have defined it as, “An emotional, intellectual, and environmental response to training.”

Each factor has equal importance in creating engagement in modern learning. Emotional response refers to how the learner feels about the content and program. It happens before, during, and after the training event. We also need to support the intellectual response learners have to our programs. Think about whether or not the instructional experience requires and involves the intellect of your learners. Finally, when evaluating modern classroom engagement, consider the environmental response associated with the program. Ask, “Are my learners interacting with the learning environment?” AND “Is the environment changed because of the participants?”

These factors may sound like common sense – and they are! – but in order to generate engagement in the modern classroom, Jennifer asserts that they must become common practice.

A BYTE participant asked Jennifer, “Which factor do you see most often appealed to in today’s training?” Jennifer responded to the thoughtful question saying,

“We had emotional, intellectual, and environmental responses in traditional face-to-face training. Now, like then, the thing we use most often is the emotional level, and it’s usually after the fact. We do that Level 1 evaluation. If everybody likes the training, we feel like we did a good job. But we weren’t capturing how people felt coming in or in the middle of the program. We don’t always do a good job engaging them intellectually, and we’re not worried about the environment. If we were, we wouldn’t record every live virtual training session and say, ‘If you missed it, you can just watch the recording.’”

Jennifer made sure to clarify that learner engagement doesn’t always equal learning. We can make every effort to motivate, engage, and support our participants using relevant content presented in authentic learning environments. But retention is ultimately the learners’ responsibility. We mistakenly make the assumption that if learners show up and have fun in a session, they’re learning. Instead, we must build the environment purposefully to allow opportunities for engagement, and create a culture of learner accountability.

Young Learners and Engagement

Appealing to Millennials is a hot training topic. Because they’re digital natives, we believe they prefer online learning programs. It follows, then, that we think, “Let’s create online programs. If we do, Millennials will engage in learning.”

Research shows, though, that online learning is their least favorite method of instruction. Additionally, they have high expectations for training program content and design. If the course is too long, the training’s purpose is obscured, or the content’s boring, they’ll get frustrated and disengage.

Sound familiar? It should! All learners, not just millennials, feel that way. This means that our “special” efforts to engage young adult learners aren’t actually generationally specific. They’re just good practice. When designing your next program, remember that all learners deserve a relevant, engaging experience, regardless of our selected delivery method, the technology we include, or the participants’ age.


Jennifer included a number of relevant resources to BYTE session attendees. Continue your learning with the following:

Topics: Engagement, Modern Learning, BYTE