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The power of the hook: making modern learners come back for more

Blog posts | 18.04.2019


Shaping the future of learning

As the way we consume digital learning changes, so the elearning world has to adapt. And we’ve already started to respond – we present ourselves as digital content providers; able to deliver learning that is quick to find, easy to use, and available at our fingertips. But do we need to do more? If content must now suit the short attention spans and time pressures of the modern learner, as well as their desire for information at the point of need, then we rely on the learner choosing to return to our training again and again. Elearning is no longer a one-time intervention.

How do we ensure our content stands out in a sea of digital distractions?

Product designers have been dealing with this quandary for a while now, constantly seeking out ways to keep the user returning to their product. Could the models they use to grab attention and keep people coming back for more also work for our industry? One approach that could do just that is the Hook Model.

What is the Hook Model?

The Hook Model, created by Nir Eyal, has been kicking around the design world for several years. An expert in user experience (UX), psychology and technology, Eyal spent years researching how companies develop products that people can’t put down. He went on to publish his findings in his 2013 book, Hooked: How to build habit forming products.

While most elearning programmes have traditionally been standalone interventions, we’re increasingly seeing clients request that their elearning double up as refresher training at the point of need. Which means habit-forming psychology, such as the Hook Model, could seriously benefit the way we design.

So, what can we do to make learners come back for more? Can we create a hook to our learning, not just at the outset of the experience, but one that will have longevity? Would weaving the principles of the Hook Model into our learning methodology do the trick.

How does the Hook Model work?

  1. Trigger
    This is what prompts the habit. Triggers can be internal, such as an emotion like boredom, or external, something in the environment that prompts us to take action, like a notification on an app.

  2. Action
    This is the behaviour the user makes in response to the trigger, in order to gain a reward. For example, boredom could push you to scroll through a newsfeed.

  3. Reward
    Variable rewards increase the chance learners will choose to make the action a habit. By triggering rewards on a variable schedule, humans – “the most relentlessly curious species on the planet” – are kept interested. As Eyal states, “it is this … impulse, to search endlessly, never satisfied, that creates habitual behavior from many new technologies”.

    A social media feed is a perfect example of this – we keep scrolling in the hope of discovering the elusive cat video that finally satisfies our curiosity.

  4. Investment
    This is what the user puts into the product to ensure future reward. For example, inputting data to receive a more personalised experience, or spending time using a product that has a visual indicator of progress.

Could we apply it to digital learning?

Short answer – perhaps. It would very much depend on the type of project, audience and client. As Online Learning Insights states, “creating learning that follows the Hook Model requires a different mindset”; it would rely on learning designers looking at projects from more of a product perspective. But as the desire for ongoing refresher training continues, chances to take advantage of the Hook Model will only increase.

Whilst not every project is going to present the opportunity to create a habit, weaving the principles into our elearning could still prove beneficial in creating truly engaging digital learning. Below are a few ideas of how we could do this, but please share your own (or any you disagree with!) in the comments.

  • Focus on the UX:
    If the way learners access and navigate a course is pain-free, they are much more likely to return. Barriers, such as clunky menu navigation and unnecessary clicks, will only serve to keep learners away.

  • Create meaningful, variable rewards:
    Can we unlock bonus content or offer a digital badge at staggered points within the learning journey? Be careful not to give away the rewards too soon though – as this Medium article advises, “scratch the user’s itch, and leave them wanting more — but don’t reveal your hand to let them know how far (…) they are between rewards”.

  • Design for repeat viewing:
    Scripting becomes increasingly crucial when elearning has a dual purpose – individual resources need to work as standalone learning items, as well as part of a wider whole. In addition, could we explore adding elements that make the experience unique each time the training is accessed? How about a content curation tool like Anders Pink, or a recommendation engine like magpie?

  • Offer opportunities to share:
    As humans, the majority of us crave social rewards. Returning to a course to find other people have responded to your discussion or ‘liked’ your post all help us to feel like we’re part of a community. While this can be achieved through platforms like Curatr or an LMS, we could find ways to do this within our learning content too. Kineo’s new ‘social MCQ’ Adapt functionality, where the learner’s opinions are compared against those of their colleagues, contributes to making users feel part of the bigger picture.

  • Apply the model early:
    Eyal recommends you apply the Hook model as early in the ideation stage as you can; you’re more likely to find the solution quicker with this psychology underpinning your design decisions.

We also need to think about the types of projects the Hook Model would work best with. For example, induction courses have the potential to last over a longer period of time (not to mention the fact new starters are a more enthusiastic learning group). By offering short bursts of content over a series of weeks, with variable rewards to unlock along the way, we could make the experience of returning to a hub of content an instinctive, enjoyable action, rather than a chore.

Or what about larger behaviour change programmes? Will projects of this scale, where users return to build knowledge on multiple occasions, gain in popularity as a culture of lifelong learning becomes expected of employers? If they do, then creating a hook that appeals throughout the learning programme will become increasingly important.

What do you think?

Clearly, not every elearning programme needs to create a habit; there will always be projects that are only suited to being standalone interventions. But, as we increasingly demand content that we can return to at the point of need, there’s the potential for us to harness the power of habits.

So what do you think? Could we apply the principles of the Hook Model (or at least some of them) to our digital learning offerings? Will the future be digital training that learners choose to return to, rather than being forced to?

As elearning providers we must always be taking inspiration from the wider design industry. The Hook Model could prove to be just the inspiration we need right now as we evolve to meet the needs of the modern learner.

Find out more about the Hook Model:


Shaping the future of learning

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