Nudge! Nudge Again! 

By Elliott Masie, Chair, The Learning CONSORTIUM

Imagine gentle “Nudges” coming to your employees. A Nudge as a text message. A Nudge as a collaborative system note (perhaps on Jive, Slack, or Yammer). A Nudge as an audio whisper from Amazon Alexa or a ping from Siri on an Apple Watch. A Nudge as a projected phrase appearing on the dashboard of a vehicle. All gentle Nudges to your employees.

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

Here is one definition of the word Nudge:

“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 differently, it Nudges (or prods) me by changing the color to red. The Nudge alerts me to a potential mistake: in misspelling, in the use of a non-traditional word, and even in grammar. The Nudge usually prods me to reconsider what I’ve typed and try something different with the hope that the red underlining 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 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 the 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:
    • The Learning Producer or Designer: Prompts based on difficulty of tasks
    • The Manager of the Learner: Nudges based on individual or group failure patterns
    • Help and Support Centers: Nudges based on reported issues or system problems
    • The Learner: Nudges that are experienced as helpful and non-discouraging
  • Nudges – What Do They Look or Feel Like?
    • Messages in SMS, Messenger, Slack, Jive, or other social networks
    • Pop-Up Windows on Screens or Devices
    • Audio Whispers from Mobile Devices or Smart Speakers
    • Nudges are Short and Quickly Actionable:
      • “Confirm the Data Security Box”
      • “Call the Customer Back for Re-Order Today”
      • “Include the Late Fee in Calculations”
      • “Don’t Hit Brake in Snow Skid”
    • Mission of the Nudge:
      • Prompt Recall
      • Supply Hint for Complex Task
      • Highlight Patterns of Missteps or Mistakes
      • Accelerate Learner to Success without Discouragement
      • Supplement a Learning Program (or Fill in the Gaps)

Nudges can take on a range of personalities, rhetoric, and even appearances – from the simple underlining of a word spelled incorrectly to a meme that pops up to give a Nudge, perhaps with humor. 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 of Nudges. 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!

Published in CLO Magazine, July 2019

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