The Overlaps Between Corporate and K-18 Learner Engagement

Regardless if you are in academia or the private sector, you likely have experienced a disengaging professional development session. Now think back to your favorite class in elementary, middle, high school or college…not lunch or recess! That class’s instructor probably used different engagement strategies to pique your interest and maintain that interest. Imagine if your trainer had the opportunity to integrate effective engagement strategies into the curriculum before you were forced to sit through that training.

As an educator, I am always on the lookout for engagement strategies that can infuse my instruction with approaches that might encourage more involvement and “buy-in” among my students. On the other end of the spectrum is a friend of mine who works for a corporation as part of their Learning & Development department. He struggles with a similar problem—trying to find ways to engage employees in various training and continuing education endeavors. Despite our two completely different learner populations, that corporate trainer and I are moving toward the same goal but from different perspectives. Our shared struggles led me to the following question:

What can corporate trainers and K-18 (kindergarten through graduate school) educators learn from each other?

K-18 learners and corporate trainees can experience technology-rich engagement strategies in similar ways. Both groups of learners are expected to apply their new or improved skills directly to their work or assignments; therefore, the context is highly relatable to the outlined objectives. Even though the audience, situation, and applications can be very different, learning objectives for both corporate and K-18 education are often similar. According to Byrne, Delmar, Fayolle, and Lamine (2016), objectives in corporate training are heavily skills-based, while K-12 education also relies heavily on cognitive and affective domain objectives. In many cases, the educational delivery system is the same, such as an online discussion board. The desired outcomes are also similar, i.e. improved problem-solving skills.

The type of engagement strategy used also depends on the type of knowledge necessary to achieve certain tasks. Corporations engage learners by focusing on tacit knowledge, while K-18 educators focus on both tacit and explicit knowledge (Byrne et al., 2016). One factor that many corporate training strategies have in common is that they engage employees in the specified curriculum by immersing the employees in practical scenarios that allow the employees to promptly apply the training experiences to better navigate real-life work events.

Like corporate trainers, K-18 educators implement a variety of technologies to build student engagement such as online discussions (Ding, Kim, & Orey, 2017), flipped classrooms (Lee, Park, & Davis, 2018), student-response systems (Heaslip, Donovan, & Cullen, 2014), MOOCs (Kerrison, Son, Grainger, & Tutty, 2016), and gaming (Zheng & Spires, 2014). Educational researchers found that K-18 educators use technology-rich engagement strategies to build and enhance students’ skills in a similar fashion to the way corporate trainers build and enhance employees’ skills, through challenging activities, active and collaborative learning, and promoting a positive learning environment (Heaslip et al., 2014). Herrington, Oliver, and Reeves (2003) state, “The use of authentic activities within online learning environments has been shown to have many benefits for learners in online units and courses” (p. 59). Authentic learning in education, according to Herrington, Oliver, and Reeves, means that there are real-world applications to tasks, collaborative exercises, occasions to reflect, and opportunities to work toward a finished product. These educational outcomes are shared by corporate Learning & Development Departments (Dodson, Kitburi, & Berge, 2015; Masalimova, Usak, & Shaidullina, 2016).

With so many similarities and overlapping strategies between corporate learning and development and K-18 education, why do the two fields of study feel so disconnected in research and practice?

Examining the overlap between technology-enriched engagement strategies in corporate Learning & Development Departments and in K-18 education might reveal some interesting trends that both worlds can learn from and improve. Following these trends may lead to better learner engagement and a heightened understanding of how to use technology tools to engage learners and promote a better application of acquired or enhanced skills.


Byrne, J., Delmar, F., Fayolle, A., & Lamine, W. (2016). Training corporate entrepreneurs: An action learning approach. Small Business Economics, 47(2), 479–506.

Ding, L., Kim, C. M., & Orey, M. (2017). Studies of student engagement in gamified online discussions. Computers and Education, 115, 126–142.

Dodson, M. N., Kitburi, K., & Berge, Z. L. (2015). Possibilities for MOOCS in corporate training and development. Performance Improvement, 54(10), 14–21.

Heaslip, G., Donovan, P., & Cullen, J. G. (2014). Student response systems and learner engagement in large classes. Active Learning in Higher Education, 15(1), 11–24.

Herrington, J., Oliver, R., & Reeves, T. C. (2003). Patterns of engagement in authentic online learning environments. Australian Journal of Education Technology, 19(1), 59–71.

Kerrison, M. A., Son, J. L., Grainger, B., & Tutty, C. (2016). Massive open online courses (MOOCs) and their role in promoting continuing education. International Journal of Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning, 8(2), 106–128.

Lee, J., Park, T., & Davis, R. O. (2018). What affects learner engagement in flipped learning and what predicts its outcomes? British Journal of Educational Technology, 0(0), 1–18.

Masalimova, A. R., Usak, M., & Shaidullina, A. R. (2016). Advantages and disadvantages of national and international corporate training techniques in adult education. Current Science, 111(9), 1480–1485.

Zheng, M., & Spires, H. A. (2014). Fifth graders’ flow experience in a digital game-based science learning environment. International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments, 5(2), 69–86.

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