Making digital training a habit, not a hassle.

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Do you sometimes find yourself aimlessly scrolling down an endless social feed only to find that an hour has passed and you can’t even remember what you’ve been looking at? Did you wonder how this happened? Perhaps you wonder how the human species got to this point in our technological advancement, a mish mash of forgettable content sandwiched into an endless feed that scrolls into oblivion?

The following blog looks at the influencers of user behaviour, firstly exploring how advertising and ‘monotonous surfing’ is setting new challenges for gaining attention in experience design, and then specifically explores some ideas inspired by Nir Eyal’s ‘Hooked’ methodology and one approach using gamification. Look for the headings if you want to skip to the bit that interests you.

The attention conundrum

Retention of information in ‘The Age of Information Overload’ is increasingly difficult for users and a constant challenge for us content creators. The battle to hold our attention is being won and lost in the creative boardrooms across the globe, as they devise new, innovative ways of getting their subliminal messaging to somehow lodge inside our memory banks.

The digital landscape is constantly changing, and now with the rise of content streaming providers and the automatic close or skip action enabling users to opt out of advertised material as an unconscious action without a second thought, the advertising industry has had to rapidly adapt.

The same (if not greater) challenges to gain and retain the attention of users are also faced in the digital/online learning industry. If anything, these challenges are often amplified due to the nature of the content and the end user’s potential indifference, motivation and competing work tasks. Consequently employers are having to adapt to the demands and habits of these employees, editing and organising training content down to short chunks, often referred to as ‘micro learning moments’, which can be accessed at any time of day from any device (perhaps an optimal solution for greater relevance and attention is to find performance support solutions for ‘just in time’ help weaved into BAU support tools).

Here’s another scenario you might be familiar with: Do you ever find yourself lying on your couch at home, watching Netflix from your laptop while scrolling through your social feed on your phone while your tablet fires off text message prompts from your coffee table? Device insanity!
Mobile devices surpassed Desktop as the preferred method of online content access way back in 2014, and while mobile’s share of our online attention continues to rise, reaching users on those devices is not so much the challenge. The real challenge is in retaining attention by creating training that is truly engaging.

‘Hooked’ thinking and gamification

So, how can training content compete with social media platforms when it comes to claiming a stake on our attention? The answer is: in much the same way that Facebook, Instagram or Snap Chat use a series of well-designed, addictive hooks and triggers to keep you coming back like a junkie in need of a fix. The secrets to the success of these platforms are outlined in the book ‘Hooked’ by Nir Eyal

Hooked is a must read for anyone involved in the creative or IT industries; it’s the quintessential guide to creating habit-forming products, and focuses on capitalising on users’ existing internal triggers by firing off external triggers at opportune moments. The book also stipulates the importance of rewarding users through use of the following reward types:

  1. Rewards of the tribe
  2. Rewards of the hunt, and
  3. Rewards of the self.

These reward types lend themselves to online training through gamification perfectly!


The application of typical elements of game play (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.

At The Learning Hook, we’re big advocates of gamification that amplifies these 3 reward types in online training. When executed deftly, these ‘Hooked’ devices make for a training experience that can influence habit formation, whether it be ongoing training, or as part of a learning campaign. The three reward types are articulated in the context of gamification learning in the following ways…

Rewards of the tribe

What is it? This involves the validation, shared knowledge or accolades received from fellow users through social integration technologies.

It can be achieved through the use of devices such as a leaderboard or a forum where users can compare results or share knowledge as part of the training experience.

Rewards of the hunt

What is it? Here we’re allowing users to choose their own content journey and be rewarded by the usefulness of that content in their career trajectory, whether that be in knowledge confidence, specialist expertise or in their ability to close a sale.

This can be achieved through key takeaways and by creating an autonomous user journey of discovery instead of the traditional, forced, linear model.

Rewards of the self

What is it? Awarding the user a status symbol that will validate their level of expertise gives them a sense of accomplishment based on their progress or score.

This can be achieved through the use of live tracking to control the awarding of symbols such as stars, or analytics that will allow the user to measure and compare their training progress with others.

Did I manage to hold your attention? If you have read this far then you should now be able to make the link between how these reward types define your current everyday online experience and why you keep going back for more. Whether applied to gamification or considered in other learning experience design, the three rewards mentioned here go a long way to hooking learners’ attention and increase their likelihood of returning.

Understanding what motivates us as consumers of content is integral to designing effective digital learning products, and this is apparent in the way gamification has been carried over from online marketing into learning design.

Reward users, play to their compulsions and let them drive their own learning – make it a habit, not a hassle.

Game on.

Kane is The Learning Hook’s Senior Designer / UI & UX. Kane has designed for, and led teams across the advertising, engineering and education sectors. He’s definitely a visual creature and eats learning experience for breakfast. He also doesn’t mind writing a blog or two.

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