Training is often cited as key to embedding public engagement in universities. The literature and professional discussions on public engagement training tend to focus on the training intervention itself (for example, the content and delivery formats), rather than on the learner (for example, current levels of public engagement practice, longer-term career aspirations, and workplace environment). In this article, we share our reflections on putting the learner first. We draw on our own general experiences and in particular our ChallengeCPD@Bath programme (funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Strategic Support to Expedite Embedding Public Engagement with Research call). We argue that many of the challenges associated with the provision and uptake of training and professional development for public engagement with research are not unique to public engagement but relate more broadly to perceptions of training and professional development that exist within the academy. However, putting the learner at the heart of professional development means understanding their public engagement needs, their broader academic/career goals, their disciplinary/institutional cultures of training and their disciplinary/institutional cultures of public engagement. It also entails a shift in how we evaluate interventions, moving beyond measures of satisfaction or enjoyment towards long-term evaluation, in particular accounting for the extent to which learning can be, and is, applied on the job, or looking at how it might change behaviour in the workplace.