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How to Increase Engagement with Custom eLearning

This was originally posted on TrainingMag

With sudden industry shifts, it’s not uncommon for organizations to have to change how they operate on the fly. This is particularly relevant when it comes to the recent challenges in corporate training. Historically, instructor-led training (ILT) has dominated learning modalities. A study by Brandon Hall in 2019 found that 95.5% of organizations are still using ILT, while only 87.5% of organizations are using eLearning. But those numbers are sure to shift more quickly going forward.

Though the transition from instructor-led modalities to eLearning has been gradual, now employee training and development teams are faced with a sudden industry shift. Employee training and development teams are under pressure to quickly recreate instructor-led experiences in a virtual setting, but doing so usually requires the capabilities to build custom eLearning activities. For many Learning and Development (L&D) teams, that may seem impossible on a short timeline. However, there are also low-tech solutions that can help.

Low-Tech VILT Solutions

The benefits of ILT and in-person social learning activities are well-documented. Working together and connecting with their peers in a classroom setting has been shown to increase motivation, engagement, and knowledge transfer. Beyond that, these interactions also can further one’s accountability toward the task at hand and foster a greater sense of purpose in the course. As such, social collaboration is one of the most important features of ILT to maintain when transitioning to custom eLearning activities. Research by Stanford found that students taking an online course were 16 times more likely to pass the course when they were put into engaged groups, compared to their individual peers.

While recreating social engagement in eLearning activities is easier said than done, there are low-tech ways to reap the same benefits. The easiest low-tech solution would be some form of virtual instructor-led training (VILT). Video and phone conference platforms (i.e., Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, etc.,) allow instructors to engage with learners in much the same fashion as a classroom setting: with real-time Q&A, virtual breakout rooms, and the ability to adjust presentation material based on the audience.


One of the most influential aspects of social learning is competition. So gamification strategies will be vital in recreating the social experience of ILT. Research on the role of gamification in eLearning has found that elements as simple as badging can increase exam scores by 5%. Consider, for example, creating a virtual leaderboard with badges to track team or individual progress and performance. Or consider creating cohorts within a VILT session and using real-time assessments to help recreate the competition of the classroom.

Hands-on eLearning Activities

Perhaps, the greatest challenge in converting ILT to eLearning is recreating hands-on experiences. For systems training, this is easier to manage. Recording short videos that showcase functions and features is simple enough, but this modality doesn’t lend well to detailed Q&A. The best option would be to create a virtual sandbox for learners to explore the system, with added prompts to guide learners along a well-defined learning path. Training for physical objects, on the other hand, presents more of a challenge. For example, it would be difficult to train a technician to use machining equipment without the physical object present. Recent advances in training technology have made immersive technology such as virtual reality (VR) training and 3D interactive models more realistic, but not many L&D teams have the capability to develop those assets.

Challenges for a Virtual World

There are a few things to be mindful of as you make the transition—especially if you are doing it under time constraints. Company culture, values, and demographics can get muddled when quickly transitioning to eLearning. Typically, those subjects aren’t addressed in detail outside of brand training, but it’s critical for new hires and tenured employees alike. Particularly in a virtual environment, organizations need to emphasize the value of human connection.

When onboarding new hires, it’s important to promote a collaborative environment early on. A LinkedIn survey that found 96% of new employees want face-to-face interactions with their coworkers. Respondents reported those interactions made a big difference in whether or not they had a good experience working with a company. Beyond that, your learners will need frequent check-ins and feedback to help them feel supported through the eLearning experience.


With any content conversion, it will be a challenge to maintain the distinctive features of the former modality. In the case of conversion of ILT to eLearning, training content may need a complete redesign. But there are low-tech solutions that can effectively recreate the social interactions we know to be effective. Still, with high-tech solutions such as gamification and immersive technologies, L&D teams will be better equipped to create impactful social learning experiences in a virtual world.