Driving engagement; the use of behavioural nudges: Part 1

Nudge definition in the dictionary

The movie Avatar is on TV again, but in 2009, when it was released, did you subject yourself to the 2 hours and 42 minutes because you thought you were one of the few who hadn’t seen it? And do you try to avoid the ‘free taster’ stands in supermarkets because you can’t trust yourself not to buy something from them afterwards? And don’t even get me started on the stampedes caused by a rare Pokémon appearing in Hyde Park…

These experiences are structured by marketers who have been using behavioural insights for years, albeit under a different name. More recently policy makers have caught up and have been devising behavioural science-driven policies to increase school attendance, voter turnout, cancer prevention and other public benefit programmes for a fraction of the price.

That got me thinking: if an app can persuade a person to skip their lunch and instead run to Hyde Park, dress, shoes, suit and all, there must be a way to use the same techniques for a more worthwhile endeavour such as learning. As an instructional designer at Saffron, my colleagues and I diligently integrate these techniques in our course design but the first hurdle is to get the learner to start the course in the first place!

Among the plethora of behavioural nudges and the biases they exploit, Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Six key principles of influence provide a rather comprehensive overview of subtle persuasion that can be applied to drive the uptake of elearning in organisations.  If you’re still sceptical about investing in elearning, or are struggling to promote it within your organisation, read on for my first three tips on how Cialdini’s techniques could be used.

Returning the favour

You know that warm feeling you get after receiving exceptionally good customer service at a shop? When you don’t really want or need the item, but you feel compelled to purchase it because you don’t want to disappoint the assistant who has just spent the last half hour tending to your every need. The principle of Reciprocity is about us feeling obliged to return the favour once we are given something we find valuable. Supermarkets take advantage of it by offering free samples, but as somebody who is in charge of learning in your organisation you have way more venues for creativity. Framing a course and advertising the value or positive experience through glossy, useful handouts,and by taking the time to distill the course into the benefits for particular individuals can compel learners to engage. A handwritten note whilst not always practical works really well (“Hey, they made an effort to do that, so the least I can do is check it out!”). How many of us respond to post-it notes left by our colleagues…a call to action from the course completion could be to encourage people who have completed it to do just that for their colleagues.

Following the herd

Research has shown that people save more energy when their bills contain a chart comparing their usage to that of their neighbours. They vote in greater numbers if told that their voting data (i.e. whether they voted or not) is public; and they reuse more towels in hotels if a sign tells them that the majority of other guests do that as well. Social proof is a powerful motivator, and one that you can successfully apply in your own workplace. Do you use an internal online forum? If so, make a point to integrate the use of that forum with the elearning course and encourage people to post a few reflective sentences once they have completed it. You earn bonus points if you engage in the conversation yourself to show that the posts are being read. Alternatively, consider creating slick emails that advertise other employee feedback. Seeing that a sizeable number of one’s colleagues have already taken the course and approved of its learning is a sure way to use social proof to nudge those still on the fence. Think Avatar frenzy, but on a smaller scale.

Giving your word

You may have noticed that you find yourself increasingly uncomfortable when you have to cancel dinner plans with somebody if you’ve already decided on a specific time and place to meet them. Whereas if you had said you would touch base towards the end of week and see if they can make dinner, it’s easier to wriggle out of it, isn’t it? Our unconscious need for Commitment and consistency makes us honour our word or suffer discomfort otherwise. So when you put a new course on the LMS, get the people who will benefit most from it in a cohort to commit to doing it! Why not send a more personalised email with a voting button and use statistics such as how many peers have signed up, or even better their names to elicit more take up. Your aim here is to get an unambiguous “Yes, I’m going to do this”, and the more public it is, the better!

Behavioural science is an exciting field and we in the education field have just barely scratched the surface. Why not try the techniques above and see if it increases engagement? If it’s a roaring success or a damp squib, please let me know either way in the comments section below! In my next post I’ll be revealing three more techniques which can be applied to your learning strategy.

For more behavioural nudge tips, see Part 2. Go on, everyone else is doing it.

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About the author

Egle Vinauskaite - Instructional Designer

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