5 barriers to learner engagement – and how you can overcome them

Learner engagement

When it comes to learner engagement, the reality is, there’s a fine line between learner engagement and broader employee engagement. That’s to say, if left to fester, disengagement with learning can very easily turn into a deeper sense of apathy towards the current and future direction of the organisation.

From there, it can be a slippery slope, hindering business performance in the long run. According to a CIPD study, 61% of UK employees are disengaged in their work. And it’s not difficult to see how damaging this can be: just 35% of this group rate their productivity as strong. In short, learner engagement is absolutely crucial to creating a wider feeling of commitment to your organisation. But before you can secure widespread employee buy-in, you first need to overcome several hurdles. We take a closer look at the biggest barriers to learner engagement and offer a few ways you can overcome them.


Learners don’t have enough time to learn. Either they want to learn, but are too busy to fit it in, or they aren’t willing to make the time as they aren’t sure what’s in it for them.

Solution: There are two possible approaches here. One is to consider the length of your learning resources – are they too time-consuming? Do they need breaking up into more succinct chunks? The other is to make sure your messaging around learning gets across effectively to both learners and their managers; this should emphasise that learning doesn’t have to take up lots of their time and is achievable when even just a short amount of time is set aside for it each week.


Managers aren’t on board with learning. This means that messages about learning aren’t filtering down to employees.

Line managers are a critical channel for reaching employees, many of whom admit to being more willing to participate in learning if it’s directly communicated from their managers.

Solution: Think about how you can sell learning to managers – what’s in it for them? How will their team benefit from taking part in learning and how will this impact performance in the long run? Gather data to support your case and present it in a concise way to managers in face-to-face meetings. We often talk about motivation and reward in the context of learners – whether they’re getting the right recognition and feedback for taking part – but it can be applied to manager involvement too. Ask yourself what would motivate them and make sure they get the credit that’s due when their teams perform well.


Learners aren’t sure what’s in it for them. They’re apathetic or, at worst, totally disengaged with learning as a result, unwilling to take part. Where your messages around learning come from is key. A top-down approach from senior figures can be a big turn off; course completion rates following this approach can be as low as 2-3%.

Solution: Reconsider how you’re positioning learning to your workforce. Are you ‘selling the sizzle’ – the benefits that learning can bring to performance? Or is it a one-size-fits-all approach that’s too focussed on ‘telling’ (describing the ‘what’ rather than the ‘why’)? Segment your learners depending on their engagement levels and tailor your messaging to each group. You can use success stories from peers to inspire others with compelling examples of how individual performance has been improved thanks to learning.


Learning is difficult to access, making employees work harder to find what they need.

Solution: Analyse how employees at different levels and in different departments are accessing content to understand where the barriers might be. You could even include learners in the learning design to be sure your solution aligns. Then make sure you adapt your platform, making all content accessible remotely and optimising it for mobile – key for remote workers who may rarely use a desktop. The overarching structure should be logical and well organised, so that employees know where to go once they get there. This is all about treating the learner as a consumer, placing them at the heart of learning to give them a seamless experience.


The content is dull and uninspiring. Highlighted by low completion rates, those who do finish learning won’t be inclined to return.

Solution: Review your learning resources and assess how well they align with learner needs. How do they like to learn? Are you using the right content for the right people? The delivery method is just as important as the content itself; infographics could be more suitable than bandwidth-heavy videos for employees who access content on mobiles while travelling. Remember to personalise your content to employees across the organisation.

These are just a few of the most common barriers standing in the way of learner engagement. Although the solutions we’ve suggested certainly aren’t the only way of addressing them, they are proven routes towards boosting your learners’ engagement. 

We’re passionate about the work we do, and the learners we create for. We believe in getting to know our clients and the learner, so that we can best help them all achieve their goals. We are learner focused agency, below there’s a selection of learner relevant blog posts covering learner engagement and learner prioritisation.

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