Cafeterias made them cheaper, but sales did not increase, and when apples were mandated with all school lunches, students tossed them out. The suspected problem was that an apple is tough to eat, uncomfortable and messy, especially for students with braces. Guessing that the students may have a different take on sliced apples, an arrangement was made to have three school cafeterias provide students with sliced apples, while three different schools served as a control. The schools with sliced apples saw daily apple sales increase 71 percent and waste decrease, with 73 percent of the students eating more than half an apple.

This experiment was designed by Cornell economists who questioned why elementary and middle school students were not eating their apples. Much like those students, according to the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, “employees expect not only a better-designed experience but new models of delivery … In a world where employees manage much of their lives on a handful of smartphones apps, they expect every element of their employee experience, from work to development to rewards, to be accessible and easy to use.”

According to their groundbreaking book “Nudge,” renowned behavioral economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein found that nudges influence us in subtle ways, often using cues to help us decide to behave better. The apple experiment was a simplicity and convenience design adjustment that enhanced the students’ experience and encouraged them to eat something healthy. Most learning and development (L&D) organizations don’t work this way. They are held captive by culture, context and traditional practices.

Given the digital revolution, it’s not surprising L&D is facing pressure to adjust to the radically shifting workplace, workforce and marketplace and to the growing divergence between technology and human adaptability. For many, this signals a daunting task of determining how to upend cultural norms and operate inside rather than outside the daily flow of an employee’s work life using untraditional methods.

According to Bersin by Deloitte, 74 percent of organizations focused primarily on traditional L&D methods, falling short of empowering employees to acquire skills and take responsibility to improve the work itself. Thirty-nine percent of organizations operated outside the daily flow of an employees’ work life.

Ready or not, the digital revolution is upon us, driving profound changes and rewriting the rules. It is clear that a purposeful focus on a user-centric approach, scalable learning and experimentation is proving to be the way to maintain a competitive edge. L&D is facing a radically shifting context for the workforce, workplace and marketplace. This means that as L&D practitioners, we must rethink our learning strategy, reimagine learning and experiment with new ways to enhance the employee experience. Employees want curated, personalized content delivered where they are. They want interaction and encouragement. Think about it: After all, Google and Amazon continually interact with their consumers.

Since the rules of L&D are being rewritten anyway, why not push the boundaries of learning and design thinking by nudging employees inside the flow of their work life to create a differentiated and interactive experience? Here are five tips:

  1. Choice architecture: A term coined by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, choice architecture suggests there are countless ways to design environments where people make choices. The architect of a building influences the behavior of the building’s occupants using the location of windows, doors, halls, staircases and restrooms. Similarly, L&D professionals should carefully design the colors, format, flow, ease of use, relevance and intuitiveness of learning content and platforms.
  2. Ease of use: Create intuitive and common-sense platform structures. Search limitations, confusion and a high number of clicks can create a poor user experience. Introduce what employees need to know into their work flow; make it easy and more convenient.
  3. Accessibility: Provide 24/7 access to learning. We are living in a content-, tool- and technology-rich world. If you put hurdles in employees’ path to certain outcomes, those hurdles will be enough to prevent them from reaching the desired outcome.
  4. Contextualize: Tailor information. Employees are very interested in learning about subjects that have an emotional connection and direct relevance to their job or personal life. Provide curated, personalized content; a meaningful context; and choice.
  5. Social influence: Harness herd behavior. People influence other people’s decision-making. You choose a product on Amazon because it has a five-star rating. Add learning features to your content, like ratings and comments from employees, to provide and glean feedback on the learning value-add.

Let’s face it: The prevailing forces of digital disruption have unfolded before our very eyes, resulting in rewritten rules for how L&D should approach employees and learning. Bringing learning to where employees are, within the flow of their work and at their point of need, is a phenomenon that must be reckoned with to stay competitive. The principle is simple: Nudge a little; interact a lot; and experiment with encouraging employees to navigate your learning ecosystem using choice architecture, ease of use, accessibility, contextualization and social influence.