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06-04-2021

2 of 5: Nudge for Learning Series

2 of 5: Nudging Training Enrolment

Enrolling people in training is a starting point. And it’s not an easy one. People are busy; they have other priorities; they don’t see the benefits; they forget to register…and the list of barriers goes on.  However, by nudging their environment through your communication, you may be more successful in this critical first step.

Leveraging the Power of Defaults 

What is your organization’s process for training? Are people actively asked to “opt in” in order to be included? Or are people registered by default, meaning they must “opt-out” if they don’t want to attend?

Defaults can be very powerful mechanisms. In the case of retirement savings, 98% of employees saved when it was the default option, as opposed to only 65% who had to “opt in.”[1].  So why not apply this knowledge to enrol people by default in important training sessions? 

Avoid the Paradox of Choice

Trainees may tell you that they prefer to choose between different options, different dates  or different time slots. But when registration time arrives, be aware that if they face too many alternatives (such as too many options for time slots), it increases their risk of not registering for anything at all. This is the Paradox of Choice.

So what is the best combination of choices? How many time slots should you provide? There is no universal answer – and asking people will probably lead you to propose too many options. The only way to know is to test, learn and adapt. In fact, “testing and learning” (through experiments) is a core principle of Behavioral Science.

Applying Pre-Commitment

When starting a training session, I often ask participants to fill out the WOOP tool[2].  One reason is to define and reinforce their motivations for the session (Wish and Outcome).  However, it is equally important to help people anticipate the barriers (Obstacle) and actively prepare to overcome them (Plan).

Image credit: Adrien Liard

This serves several purposes. Firstly, it improves motivation by making the goals more visible and present.  Secondly, we know from behavioral science that the very act of making a plan is a form of pre-commitment, which increases follow-through. In fact, research showed that students who do this type of planning follow-through 67% more frequently than those who do not[3].

And can you guess that most common obstacle that student cite?  It’s lack of time.  

And the most common solution?  To set aside dedicated time in advance, so it is on your agenda.

Relying on the right Transmitter

Of course, simply encouraging people to register for training is a major challenge.  Here, the use of the right transmitter can have an enormous effect.  In a recent experiment, letters sent to less privileged English students to motivate them to apply to selective universities had different impacts, depending on who signed it. When it was signed by a student of one of these selective universities, they were more likely to apply (23.2% compared to 19.9% with the same letters signed by non-students), to receive a positive response (21.2% vs. 17%) and to join one of these universities (11.4% vs. 8.5%).

This experiment suggests that sending letters signed by peers has a real influence on commitment to training.  This lever could easily apply in companies, to help encourage workers access available training sessions.


This article is inspired by the book: ‘Nudge et autres coups de pouce pour mieux apprendre’,written by the author and published in French, Pearson éd. 2020.

Request the B.E. Wiser Syllabus now to learn how to embed the power of Behavioral Science in your company today.

Questions? Comments? Email us: etienne.bressoud@bvanudgeunit.com


[1] Madrian, B. C., & Shea, D. F. (2001). The power of suggestion: Inertia in 401 (k) participation and savings behavior. The Quarterly journal of economics, 116(4), 1149-1187

[2] https://characterlab.org/activities/woop-for-classrooms/

[3] Duckworth, A. L., Grant, H., Loew, B., Oettingen, G., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (2011). Self‐regulation strategies improve self‐discipline in adolescents: Benefits of mental contrasting and implementation intentions. Educational Psychology31(1), 17-26.

Etienne Bressoud

DEPUTY CEO, BVA NUDGE UNIT

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