Nudge Software: A New Trend in eLearning


Most people share one thing in common: They don’t like being told what to do. In fact, research has shown one of the quickest ways to lower motivation is to try to force people to make changes – even if they agree with the end goal – because it’s human nature to refuse things we don’t want and not resist things we do.

Simply put, it’s how the brain is structured.

Richard Thaler, a recent Nobel Prize-winning behavioral economist who co-authored the Nudge Theory, suggests that ‘… positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions to try to achieve non-forced compliance can influence the motives, incentives, and decision making of groups and individuals, at least as effectively – if not more effectively – than direct instruction, legislation, or enforcement.’

How Nudge Software Can Be Used in eLearning

And when applied to eLearning, it means delivering information when it is most meaningful and making resources easy to access to result in more people taking action.

Nudge software not only initiates learning, but it can also help with long-term information reinforcement and retention in the weeks or months after completing an online course.

By periodically sending the learner questions in the weeks or months following the course to test retention – and receiving an incorrect answer – the nudge could uncover an opportunity to continue educating by sending a reinforcing microlearning bite-size of information.

When looking to improve retention, most courses focus on how institutions can identify at-risk learners, but these solutions rely on staff to review reports and contact students – potentially negatively impacting their efficacy as it is contingent upon their execution – and ultimately increasing their unit cost.

But nudge software can help all learners, not simply those identified as at-risk, and do so without significantly increasing overall costs.

In 2015, the New York Times published the article Helping the Poor in Education: The Power of a Simple Nudge. In it, author Susan Dynarski says that researchers ‘ … have identified behavioral ‘nudges’ that prod students to take small steps that can make big differences in learning.’

What would a ‘nudge’ in the context of eLearning be?

  • An intervention(s) based on analysis of human behavior – the habits, routines, and biases in normal decision-making
  • Inexpensive or free to implement, like sending an email or text
  • A gentle steer without issuing a mandate (Putting fruit at eye level is a nudge; banning junk food is not.)
  • Used at the time a person makes a decision
  • Reinforcing and checking retention of skills already learned

Education researchers are increasingly exploring low-cost ‘nudges’ that take advantage of adaptive technology, data analytics, and smart nudges to improve and influence behavior by changing how or when choices are offered.

For example, a Stanford University study found that nudge interventions showed promise in helping learners and administrators develop a strong academic growth mindset founded on the belief that academic skills are not fixed and can be improved with effort. Further, it was discovered that over time, many environmental triggers put learners into a more fixed mindset.

But change – or growth in the context of learning – they argued, is about recognizing when environmental triggers influence a fixed mindset – and to then take deliberate, necessary steps to encourage an environment with a growth mindset.

Further, according to the study, students who hold a ‘fixed’ mindset are primarily concerned with how smart they are, and prefer tasks they can already do well – and avoid ones on which they may make mistakes and not look smart. In contrast, however, people who believe in a growth theory of intelligence want to challenge themselves to increase their abilities, even if they fail at first.

Here are seven simple ways to improve eLearning using behavioral nudges:

  1. Timing. ‘Just-in-time learning’ makes learning available when it is sought
  2. Announce. Post a link with visuals where everyone can see it
  3. Communicate. Use email or texts about the availability of the learning and its objectives with a link
  4. Exclusivity. Make courses ‘by nomination’ so those nominated are motivated by their privileged status
  5. Socialize. Discussions create awareness and eagerness for participation
  6. Feedback. Get feedback about how learners think the course can be improved
  7. Gamify. Use points, badges, leaderboards and rewards to encourage competition

For its cost, effortless application and proven efficacy, behavioral and software nudges offer a no-brainer solution for those looking to motivate learners – without mandates.


By: Victoria Zambito, SVP of Content and Communictions, Vector Solutions

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