Best Practices in Learner Engagement
Contributed from Attendees from Dana Bristol-Smith's session
at ASTD San Diego Your Turn to Learn Conference November, 2006
by Dana Bristol-Smith

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
Margaret Mead

Here is the compilation of the activities that you brainstormed during our Best Practices in Learner Engagement workshop. You’ll see other ideas to consider in each area that I offer to you to from my own practice and from others who attended this workshop in the past.

Thank you for sharing your experiences and expertise. I hope that you’ll take some of these ideas and activities and add them to your instructor toolkit to extend the learning and increase the productivity of employees in your organization.

At the end of this article please read my final thoughts and recommendations.

The activities are listed in three categories:

1. Before the Learning Experience
2. During the Learning Experience
3. Post-class

1. Before the Learning Experience – The purpose of these activities is to engage the learners and get their buy-in and commitment before the learning experience. I’ve broken them up into categories: online, via email, live or phone, and other. You’ll see overlap as some items are listed in more than one category.


  • Survey
  • Self-assessment and 360’s
  • Activities
  • Reading
  • Agenda
  • Background of other participants
  • E-learning lessons tracked by manager
  • Learner profile – snapshot of resume
  • Short interactive E-lessons
  • Rating of strengths and weaknesses, ranked and discussed

Via email

  • Prepare and send questions
  • Send out getting to know you survey
  • Reading assignment
  • Ask why they are coming to training
  • Give agenda
  • Background of other participants
  • Self assessment and 360’s
  • Solicit participant’s questions and expectations
  • Applications prework
  • Send portion of material with quizzes

Phone or live

  • Solicit participant questions and expectations
  • Mystery shop
  • Confidence measures
  • Feedback from customers
  • Pass phase 1 training to go on to phase 2

Other ideas to consider

  • Prepare icebreaker activity
  • Send candy/props for E-Learning (I love this!)
  • Personal phone call to establish relationship (I do this)
  • Group visioning session to have common dialogue and establish vision
  • If participants are dispersed, assign a buddy and give them a team assignment
  • Read and post Blogs

2. During the Learning Experience
Our goal is to get participants involved quickly and keep them engaged throughout the program. We build rapport and set a comfortable and safe environment for learning.  

  • Establish their objectives
  • Role play
  • Ask questions
  • Small group activities with/without competition
  • Skits
  • Group introductions
  • Demonstrations
  • Humor
  • Stories/examples
  • Shared experiences
  • Solicit their ideas and expertise
  • Brainstorming problems/solutions
  • Worksheets (individual or group)
  • Action plan at end
  • Team building activities
  • Creative activities
  • Prizes/rewards
  • Multi. delivery methods
  • Directed questions
  • Time to think in individualized tasks
  • Personal related experiences (audience and trainer)


  • Lighting (keep the lights on)
  • Breaks (every sixty to ninety minutes)
  • Limited lecture time - not more than 20 minutes at a time
  • Food
  • Music
  • Remove external distractions
  • Toys

Other ideas to consider

  • Visual aids
  • Props
  • Case studies
  • Hands-on (concept reinforcement)
  • Group discussions
  • Moving people around to interact with others
  • Icebreakers
  • Reviews
  • Repetition
  • Different technologies
  • Student presentations and teach backs
  • Mentor/partner/buddy
  • Activities that allow participants to get work done (example: our communications programs have participants deliver “real” presentations and write “real” documents)

3. Post-class – The purpose is to extend the learning and make it stick so that employees use the skills on the job to improve their performance.


  • Exercises
  • Assessments
  • Online forums
  • Chat room
  • Blogs
  • Ezine
  • Conference call

In person

  • Lab class followup with real examples
  • Guest speakers
  • Grad Leader Forum
  • Mentoring
  • Accountability note cards
  • Refresher training
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Remediation
  • Incentives
  • Internal evaluation
  • Customer service
  • Follow up appointments with instructor by phone or in person

Others ideas to consider

  • Newsletter electronic or print (like this!)
  • Graduate website
  • Teach backs
  • Programs that extend over a period of time and include assignments
    between sessions
  • Monthly meetings that require use of skills (Example: our Speakers Success Forum for graduates)
  • Colleague buddy/mentor support
  • Brown bag lunch sessions
  • Project oriented refresher classes with group presentations
  • Send back a copy of their personal action plan 30 or 60 days after class.
  • Have graduates participate in next training as part of panel
  • Networking
  • Home work assignments (managers/employees)
  • Six month followup survey (360)
  • Reading list
  • Tip sheets/job aids
  • Mentor

Final thoughts and recommendations

Get buy-in and commitment from senior management to reinforce the concepts, skills, and learnings. For company wide training initiatives, have the leadership team experience the training as participants first to create a common language and experience.

Continue to use ASTD as a resource. It is the best place I’ve found to keep yourself current on training trends and best practices. To get the most out of your membership, attend the monthly chapter meetings and get involved by volunteering – you’ll meet a great group of people and be able to make a contribution to the industry by sharing your expertise and your own best practices.


About the Author

Dana Bristol-Smith is the founder of Speak for Success, an organization that works with companies that want their people to communicate with confidence and credibility. You can email Dana