Leveraging behavioural science to maximize learning engagement

Dictionary page with the word "behaviour" highlighted

Houra Amin shares lots of tips and ideas to really drive the engagement for your organisational learning

One of the reasons organisations invest in learning and development is because well-designed learning opportunities enhance employee engagement, job satisfaction, motivation, and commitment1 & 2 which all contribute to improved retention. 

The effectiveness of learning interventions relies on employee engagement and perceived relevance and value. Many organisations primarily focus on technology-driven solutions in hopes of achieving the biggest, fastest, and most cost-effective impact. While it is important to leverage technology to drive engagement and facilitate behaviour change, and L&D still has a lot of work to do in this space, tools alone are insufficient.

It is crucial to recognise the significance of “people” in the equation, and this is where behavioural science insights come into play:

“Behavioural science can help unlock potential in people and organisations. A human-centred approach leveraging behavioural insights improves business performance, with organisations earning 30% more revenue when their employees are inspired and engaged.”3

This article will look at how to leverage behavioural science insights in L&D to drive engagement.

Social proof

People are more likely to engage in a behaviour if they see others doing it. In his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”, Cialdini suggests that social proof is one of six key principles of persuasion. For example, informing hotel guests that the majority of other guests reuse their towels increases the likelihood of towel reuse.  

Here are some ideas to apply the principle of social proof in learning and development:

  1. Case studies and success stories:

    Share real examples of individuals who achieved success through the application of learning. Highlight their achievements and emphasise how others can benefit from following their footsteps

  2. Expert endorsements:

    Feature experts in the learning programmes to establish credibility. Learners are more likely to trust and follow the advice of respected authorities

  3. Peer learning:

    Create opportunities for learners to interact, discuss, and share their experiences. Seeing others’ achievements and experiences can motivate learners to stay committed and actively participate

  4. Testimonials:

    Incorporate testimonials and endorsements from individuals who have experienced positive results from the learning programme. This establishes credibility and influences learners to adopt the recommended practices


Nudges are subtle changes in the environment that influence people’s decisions and behaviours while preserving freedom of choice. In their book “Nudge,” Thaler and Sunstein demonstrate how nudges guide individuals toward making more beneficial choices in different areas of life. From using a picture of a fly in the toilet to reduce cleaning costs to making desired behaviours enjoyable, nudges are effective in promoting behaviour change.

Apply nudge theory in learning and development with these ideas:

  1. Visual cues:

    Use posters or signs to prompt learners towards specific activities and learning behaviours. For example, place infographics with workstation safety instructions on desks or at room entrances, accompanied by a QR code directing learners to relevant courses/resources

  2. Feedback:

    Provide timely feedback and track learner progress to nudge continued engagement. Feedback serves as motivation for improvement

  3. Microlearning and spaced repetition:

    A one-off event rarely works. Use your content as effective nudges by breaking it down into small, manageable chunks and strategically space out learning. This approach not only reduces cognitive load, it also encourages regular practice

Making it easy

Daniel Kahneman’s Nobel Prize-winning theory highlights that humans tend to prefer quick and intuitive “System 1” thinking over effortful and deliberate “System 2” thinking. Our decision-making is influenced by our environment, habits, and mental shortcuts, which may not always align with rational choices. As Kahneman says:

“Humans are to thinking as cats are to swimming. We can do it when we have to, but we’d much prefer not to.”

Increasing cognitive ease by making desired behaviour easy for people can improve engagement. Here are a few ideas to achieve this:

  1. Streamline the information:

    Reorganise the available information into easy-to-understand, value-led and skills-based categories. This enables employees to align benefits with their values and goals

  2. Use human language:

    Communicate your message in plain, clear, and concise language. Provide actionable steps for learners to achieve desired outcomes. Avoid jargon and ambiguity, ensuring clarity and facilitating immediate action

  3. Simplify choices:

    Curate limited, relevant, and high-quality options to prevent decision paralysis and keep learners focused. For instance, the ‘Today’ section on the App Store features daily short guides that empower users to take positive steps towards their goals

  4. Adaptive learning experiences:

    Tailor content to learners’ needs to keep it relevant

  5. User-friendly tools:

    Ensure that the learning platforms, tools, and resources used are user-friendly, accessible and intuitive

  6. Scaffolding and support:

    Support and guide learners through the learning process. This may involve offering templates, checklists, job aids, step-by-step guides, coaching or mentorship depending on the situation. By providing appropriate support, learners can follow a clear path and apply their learning


The transportation-imagery model suggests that engaging stories are processed like real experiences, making them engaging and memorable. By evoking emotions through storytelling, we can take an important step toward driving adoption of desired actions.

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  1. Identify relevant stories:

    Select relevant stories that align with key concepts and resonate with participants. Immersive scenarios and case studies enable learners to analyse situations, make decisions, and witness the consequences of their choices within a narrative context

  2. Structure the narrative:

    Craft a compelling narrative structure that captures attention and maintains engagement. Use characters, conflict, and resolution to create an emotional connection and hold learners’ interest throughout the learning journey

  3. Use multimedia:

    Enhance the storytelling experience with visuals, videos, or audio clips

  4. Facilitate reflection:

    Encourage participants to discuss and reflect on their insights and interpretations. This deepens understanding and enables learners to extract relevant lessons from the narrative

Leveraging principles from behavioural science can significantly enhance L&D effectiveness. By incorporating these insights, organizations can foster engagement, behaviour change, and improved learning outcomes among employees.

Houra Amin is an L&D Consultant at Bluejaylearning.com


1) Sala et al, 2012

2) Tien Thanh and Thu Ha, 2023

3) Andy Young, 2020

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