imperatives


Prompt, Push, Ping (But Don’t Pester)
Nudges belong in our learning design toolbox By Elliott Masie
Elliott Masie

Elliott Masie is CEO of The Masie Center, an international think tank focused on learning and workplace productivity, and chairman and CLO of The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium.
He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.

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magine gentle nudges coming to your employees. A text message. A collaborative system note (perhaps on Jive, Slack or Yammer). An audio whisper from Alexa or a ping from Siri on an Apple Watch. A projected phrase appearing on the dashboard of a vehicle.

The nudge is never coercive, angry, manipulative or judgmental. The nudge is a prod or reminder to pay attention or to complete a task.

In a letter to the Hebrew newspaper Haaretz by well-known Israeli behavioral psychologist Maya Bar-Hillel, she wrote the following: “The meaning of the English word ‘nudge’ is a gentle push, not ‘pestering’ [nidnud]…. A nudge is [something that] inclines people in a given direction without constraining their freedom of choice.

Let’s welcome, design, deploy, honor and even enjoy adding nudges to our learning programs and activities.

The spellchecker in Microsoft Word is my most appreciated nudge. As soon as I type a word incorrectly, it nudges (or prods) me by underlining the word in red. The nudge alerts me to a potential misspelling, use of a nontraditional word or even a mistake in grammar. The nudge usually prods me to reconsider what I’ve typed and to try something different with the hope that the red underline goes away. And, if the nudges continue, I can always right-click and get a workflow support suggestion of the correct spelling/grammar.

The nudge does not change my “spelling grade,” nor does it send me or my relatives a “bad speller” warning note. And, in a more machine learning-savvy version of Word in the future, the nudges would be less necessary, as the system would find and autocorrect my spelling screw-ups in real time.

Nudges belong in our learning design toolbox. We should be deploying nudges in every stage of learning, including assessment, content delivery, collaboration, project assignments, transfer and workflow. Nudges are digital friends or colleagues that can extend and stretch our memory and process recall — in a gentle fashion. Nudges provide private support without becoming the “annoying uncle” who interrupts you to finish your sentence, or an obsessive colleague who hunts and taunts you about mini-mistakes you made in the project report.

Nudges can take on many flavors, formats and frequencies. Imagine if your enterprise used a system — that is not yet invented — called Nudge for Success. Here are some potential design choices and options for personalization.

Who orders the nudges? Perhaps the learning producer or designer issues prompts based on difficulty of tasks; the manager of the learner nudges based on individual or group failure patterns; and help and support centers do nudges based on reported issues or system problems.

Nudges can take on many flavors, formats and frequencies.
What do the nudges look or feel like? These could consist of messages in SMS, Messenger, Slack, Jive or other social networks. They could be pop-up windows on screens or devices or audio whispers from mobile devices or smart speakers. Nudges are short and quickly actionable. For example: “Confirm the data security box,” “call the customer back for reorder today” or “include the late fee in calculations.

What is the mission of the nudges? It could be to prompt recall, supply a hint for a complex task, highlight patterns of missteps or mistakes, accelerate learner success without discouragement or supplement a learning program.

Nudges can take on a range of personalities, rhetoric and even appearances — from the simple underlining of a word spelled incorrectly to a humorous meme that pops up. Nudges can have attitude, but let’s consider giving the learner a set of nudge control dials to crank up or down the type, format, frequency and even the vibe of the nudges.

Finally, there is the data side to consider. Your nudge system in the future will also be locked into a data mindset. Data from the learner’s behavior, background or talent file might be used to edit the nudge. (For me, an occasional nudge in either Yiddish or even Star Trek’s Vulcan language would be fun!) Nudges can also be driven by data from systems, business results and customer feedback. Finally, nudges will create an ecosystem of nudge data — who, when and how to nudge which employees, suppliers or customers — for gentle prodding.

Hope you appreciate this nudge about nudging!