Nudge for Learning Series Part 4 of 5:


Nudging for Behavior Change Training

From Behavioral Science, we know that change is a process, not an event. How many training sessions have you led, in which you and the trainees have had a wonderful day learning together.  We then go home, thinking that the training is over… when in reality, everything really starts the day after.


When trainees make an effort to retrieve the information they have learned, it contributes to its memorization. To ensure that this test effect is real, researchers had 120 students learn scientific texts.

In a first group, half of them studied one of the texts twice (Condition 1), and in a second group, they studied it only once, before being asked to write down what they had retained (Condition 2). The students were then interviewed either 5 minutes later, two days later or one week later. The results of Condition 2, which involved studying the text and then recalling it, proved to be slightly less effective in terms of short term memorization (5 minutes after learning), but much more effective in driving longer-term memory (two days or a week later)[1].

It seems that the best memorization results are achieved when the recollection phase is set up after 40% of the reading is completed.[2] So, if you dedicate 10 minutes to learn a text, it is optimal to read it for 4 minutes and try to recall what you had read for the remainder of the time.  By doing so, you will retain 30% more information than if you simply spend 10 minutes reading it.

Flashcards are entirely based on this test- enhanced effect. These are cards with a question on the front and the answer on the back. They allow trainees to evaluate themselves, by reading the question on the front and answering it, before checking the solution on the back. As a trainer, have you created some?

Take your time with Distributed Learning

Do you remember how you used to learn poetry in school?  Were you the kind of child who would spend 30 minutes, at the very last moment, learning the entire sonnet by heart, or the kind of person who would take a week to learn one stanza a day, while reviewing those previously learned each evening?

Teachers should know that the second strategy is more efficient. This strategy actually has a name: distributed learning. With the same amount of work, spacing out the learning sessions over time leads to gains in memorization and restitution.  In other words, spacing makes it possible to obtain the same result, with less effort.  And yet, even though the spacing effect is more effective for 90% of the learners, a vast majority of people (72%) think that tightening up the sessions is more efficient[3].

The Spacing (or Distributed Learning) Effect was demonstrated in a recent study that showed that learning foreign language vocabulary, 13 sessions (one session every two months) was as effective as 26 sessions (with one session every two weeks).  So the same result was achieved with half the effort[4].

But to be most effective, a spacing strategy must be voluntary, not forced[5]: adults who are forced to space their learning sessions do not perform better (than when they learn the same content in a single session).

Create new habits in context

Several experiments have proven that we better retrieve information when we are in the same physical environment where we learned it.  Even familiar sounds or music have this effect.  

So what are the implications of this, when we know that B2B sales reps forget 70% of the information they learn within a week of training, and 87% within a month[6]?   It suggests that, whenever possible, we need to train people within the application environment.  So think about doing training in an actual work environment or store, because the environmental cues will help them to retain and apply the learning and build new habits.

And since behavior change is a process, rather than a single event, training should mirror that reality. A recent study revealed that, on average, companies spend only 5% of their budgets on “post-event training,” despite the fact that post-learning event activities contribute roughly 50% to learning effectiveness[7]. As trainers, we should work to help correct that imbalance, by planning follow-up sessions for people to share/discuss experiences in applying the learning to their daily jobs.  This is a great way to reinforce new learning and help ensure the adoption of new habits.

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.

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[1] Roediger III, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological science17(3), 249-255. dans Carey, B. (2015). How we learn: the surprising truth about when, where, and why it happens. Random House Trade Paperbacks

[2] Gates, A. 1.(1917). Recitation as a factor in memorizing. Archives of psychology6, 40., dans Carey, B. (2015). How we learn: the surprising truth about when, where, and why it happens. Random House Trade Paperbacks

[3] Kornell, N. (2009). Optimising learning using flashcards: Spacing is more effective than cramming. Applied Cognitive Psychology: The Official Journal of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition23(9), 1297-1317

[4] Bahrick, H. P., Bahrick, L. E., Bahrick, A. S., & Bahrick, P. E. (1993). Maintenance of foreign language vocabulary and the spacing effect. Psychological Science4(5), 316-321

[5] Son, L. K. (2010). Metacognitive control and the spacing effect. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition36(1), 255

[6] Bryan J. (2019). The Evolution of Sales Training and Coaching Technology.

[7] Kirkpatrick, J. and Kayser Kirkpatrick, W. (2009), The Kirkpatrick Four Levels™: A Fresh Look After 50 Years 1959 – 2009.