Audience engagement: what Game of Thrones can teach L&D


Technology means audiences have never before had such power and influence. Their opinions shape the agenda in entertainment, business and politics, to name a few. Didina González explores the potential benefits for L&D professionals, and – more specifically – the role of technology in executive education.

Connecting with an audience remains at the very heart of teaching – this holds true whether in the primary school classroom, or the boardroom of a global company.

Companies are perfectly positioned to harness the potential benefits of advances in technology to connect with employees on a new level and improve overall skill sets. Indeed, the very nature of executive education programmes  – as a blend of theoretical and practical skills – demands adaptable and innovative tools, in order to make the best use of the limited availability of senior executives.

So what can chief learning officers, HR heads, and L&D professionals learn from the role of technology in audience engagement – and how can it be applied effectively within a business?

Give the people what they want

For genuine insight we need look no further than the huge success of HBO’s hit TV series, Game of Thrones. Whether you’re a fan or not, there’s no denying the show has rapidly become a global phenomenon.

How has it achieved this? By engaging with audiences not only on a direct level, but also through the use of technology.

Game of Thrones recognised that any significant lull in action, particularly the gap between series, can severely impact audience engagement. To counter this, HBO ensured it connected with audiences digitally throughout the year, even during off-peak times.

And it’s worked. In January 2016, Game of Thrones received the highest digital engagement levels, despite not airing any new episodes that month.

This approach has evolved from a distinct shift in audience expectations towards a more participatory experience. Audiences are no longer happy to merely sit and peaceably consume content – a point that many modern business learning initiatives fail to address.

A recent Corporate Learning Pulse – a survey of 600 European business leaders – showed that less than half of the respondents were satisfied with current executive education programmes.

The improved use of technology as a tool to engage and excite participants may go some way to closing these satisfaction gaps, improving general sentiment from senior executives towards learning and development programmes. This ties into another finding of the report regarding business priorities for respondents – of which “adapting to advances in technology” ranked as the sixth highest.

Learning technology

The success of Game of Thrones is one of many recent examples of how technology opens up new ways to deepen the interaction between a subject and its fan base. It is well worth recognising this and considering how technology can be exploited in training.

Primarily, it can contribute hugely towards building, strengthening and maintaining the interest and participation levels of an audience. This is an essential part of creating an effective learning programme for company executives that has a lasting impact, and produces measurable outcomes.

By implementing learning technologies, CLOs and L&D professionals become the facilitators of executive training programmes, with the executives themselves taking control of the learning aspect through an interactive platform.

This is a fundamental shift in approach, but organisations must recognise that by offering autonomy in terms of learning options, senior management are much more likely to engage with a programme. This, in turn, will result in benefits to the business as a whole – whether through increased employee engagement and customer satisfaction, or through more streamlined strategy execution and increased revenue.

To put this into real-world context, we recently implemented a sophisticated simulation for PC-maker Acer, which was based entirely online. Working groups from across the organisation were connected through a learning platform.

This virtual workspace enabled new levels of discussion, exchanges of ideas, and decision making, entirely online and remotely. The teacher and participants were able to connect remotely through the learning platform – utilising the latest visual and audio technologies – in order to debrief the participants, contributing towards a positive learning experience.

Blended learning

While the effective use of technology as a tool in L&D programmes is essential, it cannot fully replace human interaction. The role of CLOs and HR professionals in these programmes should not be lost. Whilst the fundamentals of teaching and education can remain consistent, it’s the process of learning that can be improved and evolved through the use of technology.

Executive training programmes are in a unique position to embrace – and subsequently reap the benefits of – the incredible technological advances of the last decade.

However, this relies on a custom framework that facilitates the application of technology in executive education, as part of a tailored programme that best meets the needs of a specific organisation – there is no “one size fits all” approach.

A balance of traditional and innovative learning is possible, but genuinely engaging the audience is key to this. Just look to Game of Thrones to see how effective this can be.

Didina González

About Didina González

Didina González is associate director of learning innovation at the FT|IE Corporate Learning Alliance, a joint venture created by the Financial Times and the IE Business School at the Instituto de Empresa in Madrid.
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