Guest Blog Post: Designing for Impact: Using Persuasive Design Strategies to Create an Effective Learning Experience


Dr. Page Chen, President and CIO, Remote Learner

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In an ongoing effort to learn more about how learners engage with online learning, researchers are continually capturing data to turn into insights about learner behavior. Designers often then seek to use those insights to trigger events that influence behavior change that they hope will lead to increased engagement and mastery.

The challenge I often have with the insights gained from many data and analytics systems is that while we all agree that not all learners are created the same, we seem to forget that not all digital learning experiences are designed the same. Therefore, as an industry, our analysis of the data about learner behavior becomes fundamentally flawed when we are comparing learner behavior in what potentially may be poorly designed learning experiences. In short, the design might be the issue, not the learner’s intrinsic motivations.

So, how do we avoid this? It begins with the intent of the designer of the learning experience. This ensures that every interaction a learner has when visiting a digital learning environment has been designed to place that learner in a learning state of mind.

Persuasive Design Strategy (PDS)

Designing digital learning is about more than just great courses. It is critical to design the full digital learning environment to be an active participant in the learning process. Many other industries have already developed techniques for how to persuade online visitors to behave in the ways they designed for them to engage with digital content and to keep returning. Learning environments should be no different. Persuasive Design Strategies put into practice the marriage of proven instructional design strategies and user experience design methodology. 

At Remote Learner, we use these strategies every day in creating digital learning environments for our clients. We believe the design of the overall learning environment is just as important as the information it contains and have adopted these seven strategies of PDS as our guiding principles.

Seven Strategies of PDS

PDS is not about a particular platform or some new technology that requires fancy algorithms, it is about the intent of the designer, or more importantly, designing with the intent to persuade behaviors in the learning environment to reduce frustration and increase engagement, and thus, improve mastery. 


Navigating a site and parsing the content shouldn’t be a chore. If you make something simple to do, learners are more likely to do it (think Amazon OneClick). For example, a common  mistake that digital learning sites often make is to try to provide all the options that a learner might need on every page. The result is a learner that is overwhelmed and unsure of what their next step should be. A clean and simple interface will easily show them where they need to go for all their needs.


Tunneling refers to the practice of directed guidance through an experience. This is much like the process of updating software on your computer: the system walks you through informed steps, but provides structure along the way. However, if overused, tunneling can have the opposite effect. A common misuse of tunneling is forcing a learner into a never-ending loop of review and “try again” prompts in order to complete a lesson. If the desired behavior is to review material and achieve mastery, reviewing the material shouldn’t feel punitive.


Suggestion is a strategy that is all about presenting information to learners at the right time. Suggestions are triggers placed in the path of motivated learners used to persuade behavior and keep them engaged. For example, if your learners are allowed to self-enroll in courses, having a ready list of recommended courses would gently encourage ongoing utilization. Such a list could be based on information stored in a learner’s profile or based on the courses they’ve already completed.


Tailoring is a strategy that allows for an experience to be tailored to the individual learner. Choice and personalizing the environment are the two main ways to do this. Often combined with suggestion, we see examples of this in allowing learners to select from a group of options. Tailoring can also be as simple as coding the platform to call a learner by name or remember what they have recently viewed. Small changes like a personal greeting can transform the site into a social actor that participates in the learning process.


With self-monitoring, learners are made aware of their progress as a way to persuade them to complete their goals. Gamification is a popular self-monitoring tool and progress bars and checklists used to monitor a user’s task completion are increasingly common. But implementation is key. For example, a special badge could be awarded for learners that complete the course with a grade of 95 or higher. The trick is letting learners know in advance that the badge can be earned so they are motivated to do what is necessary to earn it.


This simple but powerful strategy is about encouraging and reinforcing targeted behaviors. When it comes to conditioning, we can learn a lot from digital game design, from avoiding reward fatigue to consistent design choices. Even a user profile can utilize conditioning: Learners are given instructions to complete their profile. Learners that follow the directions are rewarded with access to the rest of the site. Learners that do not follow the directions are limited to only some of the areas they need or want. But remember – to condition behavior change you need to let them know why their access is limited.


Surveillance in this instance refers to the collection of data about learner behavior and performance results. If information is power, then giving that power to learners can be one of the most persuasive strategies of all. Leaderboards are a type of surveillance strategy that uses gamification to award points for specific behaviors. It’s also a great way to combine conditioning and reward positive behavior.


Always keep in mind that Persuasive Design Strategies do not, and in fact should not, be used as stand-alone strategies. They work best when combined together in meaningful ways. PDS is about the purposeful intent of the designer and not about the tools or products they use. PDS is about thinking and designing holistically the entire digital learning environment to persuade learners to be in the optimum learning state of mind.

If you are interested in learning more about PDS, please join me on November 7th for an OLC webinar entitled Designing for Impact: Persuading a Learning State of Mind by registering here.

We also welcome you to attend a public webinar Remote-Learner is hosting on building a smarter continuing education business to expand the reach of your impactful learning opportunities on Wednesday, October 23rd at 10:00 AM CST. Register here. 

About Remote Learner: Remote Learner designs, delivers, and supports fully integrated elearning solutions that drive impact. Remote Learner’s team of experts embraces a hybrid best-of-breed approach, partnering with industry-leading providers to accelerate delivery in key functional areas, while employing proprietary persuasive design strategies, tools and techniques to deliver solutions uniquely tailored to the needs of its clients. Learn more about how Remote Learner partners with businesses, academic institutions, government, association, and non-profit organizations to deliver results that make a positive impact for over nine million learners at

Dr. Page Chen, President and CIO, Remote Learner

One Response to “Guest Blog Post: Designing for Impact: Using Persuasive Design Strategies to Create an Effective Learning Experience”

  1. Carolyn Berenson

    Thank you for this insightful article! I also believe that opportunities for authentic feedback, reflection and building communities of inquiry — methodologies for cognitive and social engagement — are forms of persuasion and can be addressed in the design phase. I believe that even in asynchronous formats, there are ways we can do this. I appreciated all that you had to say about PDS. Best!


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