SHIFT's eLearning Blog

Persuasive eLearning: How to Persuade Learners with Stories, Emotions and More

Posted by Karla Gutierrez on Thu, Dec 05, 2013 @ 10:27 AM

The secret recipe to a truly persuasive eLearning course is simple, at least in theory. Professionals in the fields of psychology, advertising, marketing and copywriting, have talked about some “rules” on how to persuade people. But all these rules lead us to two things: the human brain and human emotions. Note that these don’t just involve how people think and feel. They also include the subconscious mind and the unconscious mind of your learners. 

This is why we've always encouraged eLearning professionals to read studies that unveil how the brain works and consider the role of emotions in eLearning. Persuasion starts in the mastery of these subjects. Persuasive design is not just about influence. It’s about understanding the learner and providing the information to help facilitate the learning experience. Eventually, you’ll learn why stories are important in the process of persuading people. That’s because facts alone won’t significantly change the way people think, do, and feel. Stories do.

Now that you know the recipe, it’s time for you to get acquainted with the simple rules of persuasion. For every element on the course, you need to start considering how the unconscious will be affected by it and how we can improve it for people to get a pleasant learning experience. 

Rule 1: Understand How the Brain Works

The brain is highly visual and we're hardwired to heavily rely on visual input when making decisions. That’s why people are able to judge whether a website is worth their time or not in less than 30 seconds. They don’t decide it consciously because it's the unconscious part of the brain that works.

The unconscious also plays a very important role in eLearning. It can be easily influenced by every element on the course, from the actual words used to the colors of your buttons and navigation. Think about the sizes, types and colors of your fonts, for instance. Do they invite learners to read through the screen? Or do they easily distract them?

In this case, you don’t really need actual words to persuade students to read. The design alone is enough. If your material is highly readable on screen, then learners will likely decide to read until the end. Remember, persuasive design isn’t about manipulating students. It’s about encouraging them to do what you want them to do in order to achieve their goals.

Rule 2: The Subconscious Mind Rules

The conscious mind controls only five percent of the day, the subconscious mind rules our thoughts the rest of the time. Yes, the rest here means 95 percent -- which is almost everything.

Be curious about how your material can trigger the unnoticeable or subtle aspects of your learners’ experience. Ask better questions; don’t be content with easy answers. Remember, while the conscious mind is analytical and rational, the unconscious mind follows no logic.

Rule 3: Feel-Do-Think is the Correct Pattern

A lot of people believe that “think-do-feel” is the right pattern when designing a presentation or eLearning course, and they’re wrong. Can you actually persuade students by encouraging them first to think about the contents of your course? Of course, not. You persuade them by first letting them feel what it’s like to finish your course, by letting them asking themselves “Why should I care?”

Rule 4: Emotion is the Brain’s Secret Language

“We are not thinking machines that feel; rather, we are feeling machines that think.”--Antonio Damasio

The human brain and the complex set of human emotions. Both are tightly integrated. In fact, emotion is the brain’s secret language. When you trigger an emotion, the brain decides, the body follows.

Don’t forget that people choose emotionally and justify logically. An emotion tells the brain: remember this! It chooses which part of the screen to remember. Then the brain responds: why do I need to remember this?

You have to communicate with the intuitive brain first before you can convince the rational brain.

Rule 5:  A Persuasive Story Always Highlights a Benefit

This rule can be summed up in a question: “What’s in it for me?”

Know that learners always ask themselves such question before they start. If you know how to answer that, and answer it forcefully, then you’re doing the right thing.

Take note that you should highlight the personal and tangible benefit since the start. Specify how the program will benefit them personally. Will it make their job or life easier? Will it save them time or money? Be concrete and compelling.

Rule 6: To Persuade Easily and Effectively, Tell A Good Story

“The single most important thing you can do to dramatically improve your presentations is to have a story to tell before you work on your PowerPoint file.” Cliff Atkinson, Beyond Bullet Points

Facts alone cannot help you persuade people. Stories do, and good stories are very effective tools in the art of persuasion. They keep people engaged and interested. They evoke strong emotions and they’re easier to remember than facts. They tap into the heart of your learners, allowing them to reflect on their experiences and pay attention. It’s why presidents are always advised to tell stories to win votes and influence people.

Tags: eLearning, eLearning tips