How Nudges Make the Right Decision Easier

People make decisions daily, some good and some not-as-good. But nudges can help us choose the right path where we didn’t even know we needed help.  

Nudges are a non-intrusive method meant to alter a person’s behavior for the better. Nudges do this by engaging people’s two ways thinking: automatic and deliberate. We can also think of this as thinking fast and slow, terms coined in Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow. Students are occupied with school and life’s responsibilities and nudges are one way to help them progress in their learning journey. In this blog we will explore how nudges modify students’ thinking to help them make better decisions faster.  

How we think

People use both fast and slow thinking daily, and nudges help us modify that thinking. Fast thinking is the split second, and practically automatic, decision-making humans make on a moment-to-moment basis. On the other hand, slow thinking is more calculated and intentional. 

For example, one may use fast thinking to make a quick decision about which car is farthest away while driving but use slow thinking while parallel parking into a tight space. This is because parallel parking is a unique process that involves risk (damaging your or another person’s car) and requires more attention.   

While we are constantly aware of our surroundings and subconsciously aware of relative distances, we never have to go through the process of parallel parking outside of the action itself. That’s why a person takes extra time to judge the distance between themselves and the curb or other parked cars. But a person can subconsciously drive in traffic without having to make precise judgements about their surroundings.  

Nudges cause behavior change depending on the mode of thinking they target. A nudge that taps into our fast thinking could be a visual health warning graphic on a cigarette box. Seeing this image has an immediate effect that engages the disgust center of your brain and creates an association between the feeling of repulsion from the image and cigarettes themselves. On the other hand, an approach that engages slow thinking would be based in information, like a graphic that describes the risks of smoking to inform a person’s decision on whether or not to smoke. 

Common nudge strategies

Nudges can engage people’s fast and slow thinking in a variety of ways. One way to engage people’s fast thinking is by using the default bias, or the tendency for people to stick with an already selected option as the default answer. People stick with preselected options because they simply don’t want to change the status quo. But people also choose default options because they carry the implication that the authority figure that made the prompt sees the default answer as the “correct answer”.  

While this may seem like a small change, default options have had positive effects. Organ donorship in various countries is a great example. In Germany, people were required to opt-in to be a organ donor, which led to only 15% participation in organ donation across the country. On the other hand, in Austria, the government reversed the framing and set the default option as being an organ donor. This required someone to opt-out of participating and led to a 90% participation rate in organ donation nationwide. This highlights how large of an impact the framing a question can have and how tapping into fast thinking can help achieve desire results. 

This strategy could also be used in education to nudge students into making desired choices. For example, when you give a student with a success plan for their first year, you can change the way you frame the idea of meeting an advisor. As opposed to leaving it open ended (“If you need help, try contacting your advisor”), you can imply it’s the default choice (“Meet with your advisor to get started on the right track”). Similarly to the organ donor example, you can frame meeting an advisor as the first step instead of something to opt-in to and use a student’s fast thinking to their advantage.  

On the other hand, a slow thinking nudge engages people on a different level. It prompts self-reflection and self-accountability that is not reached through fast thinking. These types of nudges provide additional information and context to make choosing the right option easier. This could be done by informing students of the benefits that come from meeting with advisor. This nudge doesn’t change who the student is or how they make decisions but provides perspective to help them make a more informed choice in the long run. So, while fast thinking nudges seek behavior change through split second decisions and internal tendencies, slow thinking nudges pursue change by evoking critical thought.  

How Discourse Analytics uses nudges

Discourse Analytics (DA) works with customers to help learners progress in their learning journey. DA engages both ways of thinking in its nudges to help students progress.  

A nudge that taps into a student’s slow thinking nudging can look like reminding students of the long-term benefits of completing their degree or credential. These nudges help increase retention because they help students take small steps to progress in their learning journey. On the flip side, a fast-thinking nudge directs students toward a better-for-them option in a given moment, like steering them toward making an appointment with an advisor immediately. DA employs both types of nudges to operate as a positive influence on a student. This keeps them progressing in their learning journey.   

 DA further personalizes this process by tailoring nudges to mindset profiles derived from behavioral data, not demographics. Behavioral data is a more effective and equitable predictor than demographic data. Two learners can be from the same demographic category but have vastly different behaviors and mindsets and should be nudged accordingly.  

Our brains have two primary ways of thinking—fast and slow. Nudges lock into both fast and slow thinking processes that influence our behavior and decision making. By coupling this with mindset-based nudges, nudges can help students make the right decision more easily.  

Want to see how we can help you personalize learning experiences? Contact us here.   

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