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23-03-2021

Nudge for Learning Series Part 1 of 5:

Why Use Behavioral Science to Improve Training?

The world is changing fast. This seems obvious, but do you know that it took 75 years for the traditional phone to reach 100 million users?  By comparison, the mobile phone reached this number of users in 16 years! The Web did the same in 7 years, and WhatsApp in 2 years.

The pace of change is clearly accelerating and we need to adapt to these changes –  by developing new skills and updating our knowledge. But the challenge is that, as humans, we are naturally resistant to change.  We all know that we have to learn.  But that doesn’t mean that we actually do it. That’s because learning requires effort. 

The good news is that the science of learning has also progressed.  It has evolved to adapt to different learning styles and help individuals learn in their own way.  Neuroscience has brought new knowledge of how our brain actually absorbs and retains information. Behavioral Science can also be applied as a lever to help people learn. In this Nudge for Learning Series, we’ll focus on the application of behavioral science to make training sessions more productive and to help ensure that new information is retained and applied.

What is Nudge for Learning?

Even if you give them rules, such as “smartphones prohibited” that they agree with, they may not respect them.  Your participants put their smartphones in their pockets, make a pledge that they will not use them. But a few minutes or hours later, they have a look at them.

Image credit: Adrien Liard

Have you ever tried to put all smartphones at the back of the room? Perhaps linked to phone chargers to add utility to phone deprivation. You should. Because having smartphones two meters away can make a huge difference. By doing this, you will change participants’ “choice architecture” and increase the probability that they won’t look at their phones. 

As defined by Thaler & Sunstein[1], a “Nudge” is a small intervention that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way, without eliminating any options nor significantly changing economic incentives.  Nudges are not mandates. So putting fruit at eye level (in a cafeteria) counts as a nudge, while banning junk food from that cafeteria does not, because it eliminates the option.  Nudge for Learning is the application of nudge to teaching and training.


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] Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Penguin.

Etienne Bressoud

Deputy CEO, BVA Nudge Unit

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