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Leveraging the IKEA effect to create an LMS your learners love

Where do you go to find insights and information at work? A Saffron Interactive survey revealed that people overwhelmingly turned to Google, with the second most popular response being to ‘ask a colleague’. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Google is instant and easy to use, but provides information from the whole of the internet, making it difficult to filter the most relevant information. In contrast, asking a colleague is instant and contextual, but what happens when a trusted colleague leaves your organisation, and takes with her all of her knowledge and expertise?

Years ago, people would spend their entire career at a single organisation but, in recent years, the average time a person stays in a job has dropped to 4.4 years. This sea change intensified the problem of lost productivity – the typical productivity cost of an employee leaving is 85% of their base salary due to their replacement’s mistakes, lost knowledge and lost skills.

It appears clear that the perfect bridge between Google and asking a colleague is the LMS. It would also solve the productivity cost problem by providing an internal system to capture and organise employee insights. Additionally, social science research demonstrates that the humble LMS has a further inherent benefit.

The IKEA effect

In 2012, Dan Ariely, Michael Norton and Daniel Mochon conducted a study into the effect of labour on how people value things. In one experiment, researchers asked subjects to make origami frogs. The subjects’ creations were then presented alongside origami built by an expert, and they were asked how much they were willing to pay for the paper figures. The results shows that the subjects valued the origami they created equally high as those made by professionals. This study demonstrated that the more effort we put into something, the more likely we are to disproportionately value it.

This cognitive bias was later dubbed ‘the IKEA effect’, as unlike other retailers, IKEA don’t sell preassembled merchandise. Instead they make customers assemble it themselves. Ariely believed that the hidden benefit of IKEA doing this was that it made customers adopt an irrational love of the furniture they build – this is why you rate the wobbly MDF TV stand that you put together more highly than anything Charles and Ray Eames put their hands to.

So the ability to create higher value by simply allowing users to invest effort into a product or service should mean that your learners will instantly love your LMS, as it’s based on personal investment. If your LMS has social features, your learners will learn to love it in no time, and you’ll have a thriving community of practice? Well, not quite.

Why your LMS isn’t loveable

Even when LMS do have social functions whereby learners can post helpful links and guides, they are often tragically underused. This is because no effort has been made by the developers to provide features which can engender an IKEA effect-like sense of ownership or reward contribution and investment.

Humans generally find it difficult to motivate themselves to achieve longer term rewards. This is often where a lot of LMS’s fall down – they don’t let the learner see that the service gets better with increased usage and personal investment. In his book ‘Hooked: A guide to building habit-forming products’, Nir Eyal uses the example of iTunes to show that even tiny investments can have a huge effect: “Every time users of iTunes add a song to their collection, they are strengthening ties to that service – the songs on a playlist are an example of how content increases the value of a service.”

The power of social rewards

One of the simplest ways of encouraging investment in your LMS is through facilitating social rewards. Eyal revealed how social rewards can be an even better motivator than money by comparing the fates of two question and answer forums. attempted to incentivise users by letting them submitting a question and offered a bounty in the form of a virtual currency. Users who provided the best response then won the bounty which could then be exchanged for real money. Despite this, Mahalo quickly began to haemorrhage users to their competitor Quora who didn’t offer users any money. Instead, they used a simple up voting system reporting user satisfaction. In doing so, Quora showed that social rewards and variable reinforcement of recognition from peers was a better motivator than cash.

Our platform, Saffron Share, has a simple Reddit-like up voting system that allows learners to up vote their favourite posts on the system. This, in turn, alerts other users to content that they too may find useful, allows the system to better optimise suggested content, and gives the poster a small ego boost, making them more likely to post again.

Being realistic

The reason why it can be difficult to build a valuable community of practice is because you are asking the learner to do a bit of work. Often too much work, too early. You can’t expect all of your learners to be posting detailed guides on how to complete valuable processes straight away. In truth, some likely never will. A better strategy is to ask your learners to do little bits of work that make them increasingly committed to the LMS.

Saffron Share uses a dashboard which provides learners with an idea of how much they’ve contributed to the system. Each learner is also shown their level of expertise, based on their usage of the system.

By maximising the effects of small contributions such as upvoting, the more easily learners will be able to see how their contribution, however small has improved the system for themselves and other users, the more likely they are to become attached to the system, and assimilate it as a natural part of their working life. Helping to build an LMS community people hold in the same regard as their crooked coffee table, will make your learners think twice before looking something up on Google.