How to disengage learners and alienate your audience


You'll often you see blog posts telling you how to engage your learners and captivate your audience. We're taking a different approach and showing you what not to do. Follow our tips to disengage learners make sure they have a horrible experience!

#1: Keep Them Out of the Loop

This is really the starting point of any good strategy to reduce learner engagement. Make sure you share very little, if any, information about the training. You really want to leave them wondering;

What is this training about?
Why do I have to complete this training?
Am I doing something wrong?

What will happen if I don’t complete the training or if I don’t do it well? 
Will I be given time to complete this training at work?

This will ensure that the learner is both confused and frustrated from the moment they are told to start the training. If the learner doesn't understand why they they are doing the training and how it relates to their role, they'll surely keep clicking next to skip through the course as quickly as possible.

#2: Don’t Use Their Language

Make sure you use dry, monotone and highly specialised language. This is especially important when covering compliance and policy-related training.

Policies and legal materials are generally written in a way that only experts are comfortable with reading. Therefore using large policy extracts and legal jargon will ensure the learner is constantly stumbling and having to re-read the content.

At all costs, avoid re-wording the content into a more conversational style as this will lead to the learner absorbing the content easier.

#3: Distract Them Wherever Possible

There are various ways to distract a learner, but these two are particularly effective.

Use unnecessary animations.

A personal favourite of mine is having numbered or bulleted lists animate on to the screen one by one. This prevents the learner from being able to start reading the content until all the items have appeared because each new item will grab their eye’s focus. This effect can also be achieved by having a variety of heavily animated buttons on the page.

Use unnecessary audio.

Narrating on-screen text can achieve a similar result from an auditory perspective. The key is ensuring that the learner cannot move to the next screen until the narration has finished. Imagine trying to read a book while listening to the audiobook at the same time. It's very hard to concentrate and take in any of the information. By doing this you're making the content impossible to read unless the learner turns off their sound.

#4 Unnecessarily Trick Them

Where possible, look for ways to trick the learner into incorrectly responding to activities then point out their error in the most annoying way possible.

A great way to achieve this is by using questions that have multiple ambiguous choices, ideally with only subtle wording changes relating to a correct process.

For example:

Jill works in Accounts at Terry’s Top Tools and notices an invoice for an expense that doesn’t seem right. What should she do?

A) Don’t process the invoice, don’t notify the CFO but notify her manager within 24 hours
B) Don’t process the invoice, notify the CFO within 24 hours and her manager within 24 hours
C) Don’t process the invoice, notify her manager and don’t notify the CFO
D) Don’t process the invoice at first, but process it after notifying her manager within 24 hours

Ultimately, we simply want Jill to understand she needs to notify either the CFO or her manager about the suspect invoice, but by adding misinformation and confusing language we can really test the learner's patience!

This will both be patronising and frustrating for the learner. They will quickly see that the various learning checks peppered throughout the course are designed to test their reading and interpretation skills, rather than their knowledge on the topic.

This will slow them down in trying to complete the eLearning and strain their eyes by forcing them to re-read everything two to three times.

#5: Treat Them Like Children

Your audience consists of adults who have existing knowledge and life experience. Therefore a sure fire way to disengage them is to ignore all of this and treat them like children.

Write the content with the assumption that your learner has no prior knowledge of the topic. Learning checks should be forced, focused only on the theory of the topic and make sure there is no meaningful feedback. Telling them simply that they are right or wrong is the best approach here, don't let them know why their selection was right/wrong.

You also want to ensure that all of the content has to be completed in a set order with everything compulsory. There should be no way for the learner to demonstrate their prior knowledge of this topic.

This will leave the learner with feelings of frustration, lack of control over their learning and feeling very patronised.


Obviously this article is satirical, but the sad reality is that most of these things commonly appear in eLearning courses. Hopefully this "How Not To" guide will help spread awareness about these things that will be detrimental to your staff's learning experience.