Getting Engagement from Disengaged Learners

Getting Engagement from Disengaged Learners

One of the things I love most about training, is also what makes the job most difficult – the unknown element, the learners. As a trainer, when walking into a classroom or logging in to a webinar, in most cases you don’t know who is going to be in your class. You may know things about them like what department or team they are from, their names, and sometimes you may even have some insight into skill levels.

But what about what they think about the session? Are they dreading it? Are they worried about taking time away from their desk? Do they feel that they have been to too many of these sessions before? Was the session mandatory for them, or did they choose to attend? What are their personalities like? Are they nervous about the session? Do they prefer to work individually or in groups? Are they introverts or extroverts? There are so many unknowns!

The question is what do you do when one (or more) of the learners is dreading the session, wishing they were anywhere else, bored, distracted or disengaged. Because if not addressed, it can really bring down the energy level in the room and start to affect others who started off engaged.

Here are my Top 5 Tips for dealing with that scenario:

  • Sell the course & the benefits
    Sometimes, especially where learners are assigned mandatory courses for their grade, they don’t understand how the course will help them, why they need to attend, what they get out of it. I’ve found that making this clear often helps. I’ve also found that sometimes learners have no idea what the course is about and what they can expect from the day. For those learners who love structure and hate the unknown, one of the best ways of putting them at ease is to let them know up-front what’s coming
  • Pair the learner with someone more enthusiastic
    For group or team exercises, disengaged learners in a group together is a recipe for disaster. Passion and excitement is contagious. I’ve often found that pairing a learner who has qualms about the session with someone who is engaged, helps the other party step up their game. Keep an eye though on the pairs or groups though because we don’t want the person who is engaged feeling strain or getting de-energised!
  • Get them actively involved
    If the person attending the session is disengaged because they feel that they are already familiar with all of the content being taught, get them engaged by using them in the room as an expert. Ask them questions to help get them actively contributing in the session. It will encourage them to pay attention and increase their level of engagement.
  • Mix it Up
    Over the years I’ve come to the realisation that not everyone is thrilled at the idea of training. In fact sometimes learners can dread it – forced socialisation and interaction, group work with teams of people you may not know well, having to present in a room, not knowing anyone and wondering about being left out, are all scary things. If you’re in a room of learners who are more introverted – mix it up. Allow time for more reflection and individual exercises. Instead of having everyone share out loud, have them write up Post-Its that you amplify to the front of the room. It will help everyone relax and  feel more comfortable and less worried in the room.
  • Have a chat
    If by the first break, despite trying all the methods above your learner remains in the same frame of mind and mood, nothing is wrong with pulling them aside for a chat. In fact, without it, you might never get to the bottom of what’s wrong and know how to help. Sometimes even knowing that you’ve noticed that they aren’t present is enough to kick start participation and cause a change. Or sometimes, there is something far wider reaching happening which may mean that training is not the best place for the learner on that day.
By | 2017-04-11T16:22:10+00:00 April 18th, 2015|Blog|14 Comments

About the Author:

Dana is THE Trainer! She is passionate about learning, coaching and development and is in possession of over 10 years’ Training and Learning & Development experience. She has a proven track record of developing and delivering aspirational and engaging learning content – and now blogging about it. Check out her website


  1. Kaylene Bright January 24, 2016 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    Very interesting post. Sometimes I really struggle standing at the front of a classroom when there are some learners who really clearly are not interested. It’s great to have some tips on how to manage that classroom interaction.

  2. William June 22, 2016 at 5:34 am - Reply

    I loved your article. Really Great – William

  3. Barry Miller September 23, 2016 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    I really liked your article. Much thanks again. Cool!

  4. Felipe Galindo September 25, 2016 at 1:31 am - Reply

    Muchas Gracias for your blog.

  5. Sebastien November 26, 2016 at 10:38 pm - Reply

    Thanks Dana! I’m just getting started in the business and really enjoy your posts and tips.

  6. Michael Best March 2, 2017 at 10:44 pm - Reply

    Appreciate you sharing, great post.Thanks Again. Keep writing.

  7. S Mibby March 6, 2017 at 10:52 pm - Reply

    Thanks-a-mundo for the article. Really Cool.

  8. MCA Training March 16, 2017 at 12:14 am - Reply

    Great post. I still struggle with trying not to feel offended when people are disengaged in my classes. A timely reminder. Much obliged.

  9. Vicky Figueroa March 22, 2017 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the blog post. Much thanks again. Want more – you should post more often.

  10. Jim Trotman March 26, 2017 at 6:35 pm - Reply

    I like the helpful information you provide in your articles. It would be great if there was a way to get updated when you post, but I will I will bookmark your weblog and check in regularly. I’m just getting my start as a trainer too and I’m quite sure I’ll learn many new things here! Good luck!

  11. Nathan Samuel March 29, 2017 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing some research on disengagement in the classroom and he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him. So let me rephrase that “Thanks for lunch!”

  12. P Ogilvy March 29, 2017 at 11:48 pm - Reply

    Simply a smiling visitor here to share the love (:, btw outstanding design and style

  13. G Sharma March 30, 2017 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    Great post! Dana I’d like to quote a fragment of this on my own blog. I’ve sent you a message through your chat. Please do let me know.

  14. Sadaf Ejaz April 10, 2017 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    Great blog article. Really thank you!

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