bored employee

1) Commitment and consistency

In the mid-1960s, psychologists Jonathan Freedmand and Scott Fraser conducted an experiment that showed the power of consistency. They sent researchers canvassing door-to-door in a residential suburb of California, asking homeowners if they could put a giant billboard that read “DRIVE CAREFULLY” in their front lawn. 83% of the homeowners rejected their request. With a similar group, they took a different approach. At first contact with the homeowners, the researchers asked them to sign a petition that favored “keeping California beautiful.” Two weeks later, a different researcher asked them if they’d be willing to put the DRIVE CAREFULLY billboard in their front lawn. About half of these people agreed to the request despite the earlier request having nothing to do with driving safely. Signing the earlier petition changed the view the homeowners had of themselves. Suddenly they saw themselves as the type of people who were advocates on behalf of causes. To keep a consistent view of themselves, they agreed to put up the billboard in their lawns when they wouldn’t have before.

Using Commitment and Consistency with eLearning:

  • Begin With Commitment
    Send out a small questionnaire before the eLearning module asking learners to rate a variety of things, for example, “Becoming more skilled at my job is important to me.”
  • Show Progress
    Enable the learner to see the progress they’re making. Show how many courses they’ve completed, videos they’ve watched, or skills they’ve acquired.
  • Get Written Feedback on the eLearning Courses
    If feedback on the eLearning course is positive, learners will act in a way that’s consistent with that feedback. If someone writes that the course is an excellent way to learn the new software, this commitment to belief is likely to be self-perpetuating. They’ll be more interested in future courses because it’s consistent with their belief that the lesson was helpful. The act of writing down positive feedback also plays into social proof.


2) Social proof

I was recently the first customer at a coffee shop when they opened in the morning. As I was paying for the coffee, I found it interesting that the tip jar already had a few dollars in it. Baristas, like many people, have discovered the power of social proof for influencing behavior. When we aren’t sure about what to do in a situation, we like to think that we gather research and make an objective decision based upon what we find. The reality is that we often look to those around us as a guide. If they’re engaging in an act, we assume that they must have information we don’t. Therefore, we often take the shortcut of replicating their behavior. The impact of social proof permeates numerous aspects of life, including behavior at work. Good training and eLearning can become contagious, although this also means that poorly designed training and lack of engagement also spreads.

Using social proof with eLearning:

  • Highlight Employee Learning
    Show off employees (in a newsletter, wiki, or other internal forum) who have completed the most courses. People are heavily influenced by what those around them are doing. Utilize this for good by inspiring learning.
  • Share The Average Course Score
    Give employees a score to beat. Providing the average score generates some healthy competition for each individual employee to improve their learning results.
  • Show Positive Momentum
    Highlight course numbers that show positive momentum in learner adoption (how many people started taking a course, how many people completed a course, etc).

3) Scarcity

Ever wonder why the McRib at McDonald’s is so popular? When it was first introduced nationwide, it was a flop. Eventually McDonald’s retired the mostly porkless pork sandwich. A decade later, McDonalds gave it another try. The only difference is that this time they limited its availability. Instead of the McRib being ubiquitous, it was only available in select markets certain times of the year. No one knew how long it was going to be around so people felt motivated go out and buy it before missing the opportunity. Before long, sales skyrocketed and the McRib became a viral sensation. While eLearning grants the opportunity to easily provide a virtually unlimited number of learners with access to a variety of courses, carefully utilizing scarcity can dramatically increase course interest and learner engagement.

Using scarcity with eLearning:

  • Use Time Constraints
    Experiment with only allowing access to an eLearning course for a few weeks at a time. The feeling that something can be lost or taken away motivates people to make a decision.
  • Limit Course Access
    People want to leap before they can walk. Consider limiting higher level courses to only people who have completed prerequisite courses. This also leverages the feeling of momentum and progress which will stimulate further learning.
  • Reward Early Adopters
    Limit course access to the first (insert number or percentage) people to sign up. By limiting course access people will be more motivated to sign up instead of risking the feeling of missing out.

4) Provide a reason why

Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer conducted a study to examine the impact of providing a “reason why” for triggering a yes response. For her experiment, she asked people waiting in line to use the photocopier at a library: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” The simple request and reason produced a 94% success rate compared to the 60% success rate of only asking: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” Beyond proving that the word “because” is incredibly powerful, the study confirmed a basic tenet of human nature—we like to have reasons for doing things. With eLearning and corporate training, it’s tempting to just hand off a knowledge dump of content to learners, which many companies do with minimal results. The companies that see measurable improvement in employee performance inspire learners by providing a specific reason why the training is important.

Using the power of “why?” with eLearning:

  • Give Employees A Reason Why
    If you’d like to inspire employees toward more effective learning, providing a reason why the learning is important is essential to emotionally engaging employees. The reason why should also impact the employee directly.
  • Remind Employees Of The Purpose
    During long periods of learning anything, it’s easy to lose track of the overarching purpose. Keep employees focused and moving toward the end goal by providing reminders of the importance of what they’re learning.
  • Connect Learning To Job Function
    One way to inspire and motivate employees is to connect the learning directly with their role, showing them how completing the course will be beneficial in helping them attain mastery over their position.


5) Make learning engaging and actionable

One of the easiest ways to reduce and eliminate wasted training is to narrow the time between learning and implementing in the context of the employee’s role. The mind consumes a massive amount of inputs each day, many being pruned from memory while we sleep. To remember what we learn, it’s beneficial to form a stronger impression upon the mind with what we want to remember. This is why it is important to implement what you learn before your mind has the opportunity to forget it. To inspire better learning, the content has to be engaging to the audience. By engaging, we don’t mean that it has to have the production of a Hollywood movie. The most effective way to make training engaging and improve performance is to make it relevant to the learner and their specific role at the organization. If the training that has been developed relates strongly to the job the employee currently performs or will perform in the future, then you’ll get a much stronger response from the employee. Mastery of a role within an organization is a great source of happiness for employees. Therefore, it should be clear to employees that the training will help get them further down the path of competence and mastering their role.

Using engaging and actionable eLearning:

  • Narrow The Gap
    Minimize the time between learning and implementation as much as possible. The shorter the gap, the less chance there is for the material to be forgotten.
  • Make It Easy
    The learning content should be easy to implement and use. Eliminate all barriers and confusion in regard to why the training is important, how to access the training, and the benefits of completing the training.
  • Measure For Success
    Set key objectives and targets in place so you can measure (and celebrate) the success of the training. It’s difficult to improve what you aren’t currently measuring.


article written by Dashe & Thomson