guiding leaders of volunteers to feed the passion of those who choose to serve


New volunteers are in learner mode as they arrive to serve.  Engagement in
the orientation event is directly connected to how effectively a volunteer learns.  A common approach to delivering orientation is tell-based, involving little or no interaction.  Leaders may default to talking at new volunteers.  Video and digital content can be informative and inspiring but may not be interactive and engaging.  Reading content requires active participation from the volunteer, but may not reach all the senses required by some to effectively learn.  Seeing, hearing, thinking, feeling, saying and doing incorporates every new volunteer’s preferred learning style.  Deeper engagement in learning throughout orientation yields greater results for volunteers.    

The Learner Engagement Model:  Preparing Your Volunteers to Serve

How does a leader increase interaction during orientation?  Applying The Learner Engagement Model is a helpful guide for designing and facilitating volunteer orientation.                 

The Learner Engagement Model prescribes the approximate amount of air time filled by the facilitator and learners during a learning event.  The top row represents the facilitator’s delivery to participants in a live learning environment.  The top row also envelopes digital content by representing content source delivery to learners.  The bottom row denotes four discreet ways in which learners engage with learning content. 

Learner to Facilitator—The learner may discuss topics with the facilitator, respond to open-ended questions posed by the facilitator, and ask questions of the facilitator.  In technology-based learning, moderated digital content such as a virtual Q & A allows the learner to engage with the facilitator or content source.   

Learner to Content—The learner may read, highlight, capture notes, write or type answers to questions, complete fill-in-the-blank statements or respond to knowledge-check questions with hard-copy or digital resources.  Learners may also watch videos, view slide presentations or engage in other multisensory content.  

Learner to Learner—The learner may share in one-on-one, small-group or large-group discussions with other learners.  Contributions may be captured on paper, whiteboard, flipchart or other means to be shared during debriefing to create exponential Learner to Learner interactions.  Learners may also engage in digital discussion threads to create a shared learning experience. 

Learner to Self—The learner may be provided time for reflection, for making commitments to application of learned content or for journaling.     

The model recommends the air time filled by the top row, Facilitator/Content Source to Learner interactions, should approximately equal the air time of the combined techniques of the bottom row.  Expertly designed and facilitated learning content achieves the balance described in The Learner Engagement Model.  The model is Otherliness applied to the act of learning.     

The Learner Engagement Model also applies to the effective design of digital content.  When considering the methods technology affords in creating learner interaction, the inherent limitations of digital content become apparent.  The strength of digital delivery is its ability to share information.  For example, a video is a great tool for information-sharing.  The video can be compelling and inspiring yet not engaging, because watching a video is a passive activity.  The human factor increases the impact of learning for most new volunteers by creating opportunities for deeper engagement that technology often cannot.

Striking the appropriate balance of interaction in orientation design and delivery requires skill.  Leaders are recommended to partner with a learning professional to help create engaging content.  Leaders may have access to a qualified internal resource in their organization.  If not, talent development professionals in the local area may be seeking an opportunity to apply their gifts and skills in a volunteer capacity.