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How to Engage Corporate Learners Using Psychology

Why do you think brands spend fortunes on marketing surveys? Couldn’t they just go ahead and build something on a whim? No. That’s because brands are here for their customers. They have to not only create what their customers want but also design and package their products to appeal to the senses of their audience. 

As an eLearning designer, you are no different. You have to not only create learning that delivers a punch but also package your course to make it aesthetically pleasing for the learners. You want your learners to stick around with you. Right?

You are here to alter behavior, change habits and teach new skills. You have to make sure that you know what appeals to your learners before you can get them to march to your tunes. You have to know what makes them tick, what are their pain points, and what inspires them. 

It’s great that you are an eLearning expert in form and color. Now you have to learn some psychology as well. Here are four theories to help you understand your audience and how they perceive your courses:


1) The Halo Effect 

According to research, our brains are evolutionarily programmed to make “snap” judgments in 3 seconds or less. This is the Halo Effect, first coined by Edward Thorndike, an American psychologist.

Some parts of the human brain have not evolved much from our caveman days. The amygdala, for instance, regulates our gut reactions—those split-second decisions we make without thinking. 

When the amygdala is aroused, it immediately responds by triggering a “flight or fight” reaction. These are the reactions on which our survival once depended. The amygdala is faster than our conscious thinking processes. 

Imagine what would have happened to our ancestors without the amygdala. They would have perished by the time they finished pondering over the saber tooth tiger in front of them. 

In today’s times when getting dinner is not so risky, the amygdala works in different ways. It is the component that makes us decide that we don’t want to have anything to do with a man who sports an untidy stubble and unkempt hair. It is the amygdala at work when we decide we don’t want to try out a shampoo after watching a 20-second TV ad. 

As eLearning designers, you would be interested to know that your learners are also prone to exhibit the Halo Effect. They will judge your course from the intro and the first 2-3 slides and will decide if they want to sit through it. It is imperative that you make an impression right away.  

Read these articles to learn the importance of first impressions and how to make them last:

2) Color Psychology

Color is a powerful psychological tool in eLearning design. Look how powerful colors are:

  • They string together disparate elements to create associations and impart meaning. A consistent color scheme is the hallmark of a harmonious eLearning course.
  • They evoke strong emotions. They can whet interest, spark delight, churn up wonder, or invoke gloom and despair in learners. 
  • When presented at the right time and in the right way to the right group of audience, colors can motivate learners to take action, change behavior and attitudes, unlearn old beliefs, and embrace new ideas. 
  • They influence retention and recall of new content. This is because specific colors and color schemes draw attention and arouse interest. When people focus more on an object, they are likely to remember it well afterward. (If you are interested in the science of it, here’s an article on how color acts on the human brain.)

When the learner clicks to open your course for the first time, the colors on the screen hit his senses first. They see a soothing mauve in the background, a fiery red in the headline, a cheery yellow in the body text, an intriguing black along the edges, or a serious blue in the sub-headlines. As an eLearning designer, you should understand the psychology of colors and use it to create an impactful course. 

Here are some pointers that will help you wield the power of colors in your eLearning courses:

  • The meanings of colors may change when they are paired with other colors. Color combinations have their own meanings and significances. 
  • Before mulling over colors, decide what mood do you want your course to create or the personality to portray. 
  •  If you are unsure about the effect of different colors, choose simple color schemes. It is a good idea to use color schemes that contain variations of not more than three colors.
  • Color schemes affect usability and accessibility. For instance, navigation tabs and dropdown menus in faded or washed-out colors are difficult to make out. It is alright to use different shades of the same color to represent the different states of a button. But having too little contrast between the shades makes it difficult to make out if a button has been clicked or not. 
  • Contrast can help retention and recall of information. Higher levels of color contrast make objects more prominent than their surroundings. Learners are attracted to these objects and hence, remember these vividly. 
  • Contrast affects the legibility of text. Extremely bright colored text that creates a high contrast with the background or that in a dull color that almost fades into the background is difficult to read and strains the eyes.

You can learn more about the meanings the human mind tends to ascribe to different colors, here. Meanwhile, you might want to keep this reference handy while choosing the colors for your course.

Color is so powerful as a medium of communication that countless studies have been carried out to find out its effect on the human brain, the emotions that it evokes, and how it is used by brands to carve out a unique identity. This blog post contains ten infographics on the power of colors.  

3) Gestalt Theory 

Gestalt Laws is a body of principles that define how the human mind perceives diverse and seemingly disparate elements and combines them in ways to impart a sense of order. These mental processes take place in a flash, so what you see is the order of the whole (or the lack of it) and not the disparateness within. 

The following Gestalt principles explain how the human eye perceives objects. (As an eLearning designer, you should create courses where your learners are able to perceive meaning and order right away.)

  • Similarity: The Law of Similarity states that the human mind groups together objects that look similar. Visual elements that have similar shapes or colors are thought to belong to one group.
  • Law of Prägnanz: In a visual composition, it is natural for some objects to be in the foreground and for some others to recede into the background. The viewer instinctively gauges that the objects in the foreground are more important than the ones in the background.

  •  Symmetry and Order: The human mind loves harmony and order. Nothing conveys order more strongly than symmetry. Symmetry feels right. It imparts sense and meaning to an object or composition.

  • Closure: We can fill in gaps with missing pieces of information. We can connect the dots and form a big picture in our minds even if some dots are missing. We rely on our earlier experiences and existing knowledge to fill in the empty spaces. According to the Law of Closure, learners can recognize elements and guess underlying patterns accurately even if some elements are absent. Create closure in your courses by establishing a strong contrast between the background and the elements in the foreground.

  • Proximity: Birds of a feather flock together.  We tend to perceive objects grouped together to be similar. For instance, in eLearning design, you can differentiate between two groups of multiple objects by making sure that the distance between the objects of one group is less than the distance between the two groups.

  • Continuation. The human eye wants to effortlessly move its gaze from one object to another. There is a certain momentum in this action of the eyes, and lines seem to magnify the effect. Think how you read flowcharts. Your eyes naturally follow the arrows whichever direction (up, down, right, or left) they take you.

As an eLearning designer, you should guide the learner’s eyes through the elements on a slide, so he reads or views the content in the logical order in which you had intended it to be read or viewed. You should establish visual continuation in every slide, so learners can comprehend the association between the different elements on screen and pay attention to the ones that you want them to.

Here is a post that explains these principles in greater detail.

4) Von-Restorff Effect

The Von-Restorff Effect, or the isolation effect, says that we tend to remember more and in greater detail what is out of the ordinary, unusual, and absurd. 

In an outdoor party full of fedoras and derby and bowler hats, the hat with feathers and strawberries catches our eye readily. We also seem to remember in vivid details what it looked like when we describe it to others long after the party is over.

We underline words and phrases or type them in bold when we want the reader to pay special attention to them.

According to the Von-Restorff Effect, distinctive objects that pop out of the background are more memorable than objects that blend in with their surroundings. What “sticks out like a sore thumb” remained etched in our minds because we are programmed to remember the unusual.

So how do you, as an eLearning designer, implement this principle into your courses? You want your audience to pay attention to one particular spot on the screen—a chunk of text or an image that is critical to the learning. Using the Von-Restorff Effect, you should design the screen to make these particular elements stand out from the other visual components.

Keep these pointers in mind:

  • Ensure that the course exhibits a cohesive visual design. This ensures that anything distinct stands out and is conspicuous. Besides drawing attention to critical pieces of content, these distinctive pieces also add delightful touches of surprise (whimsy, if you so prefer) to the course and keeps away boredom.
  • Choose the elements that you want to stand out on the screen.
  • Create contrast with shapes, colors, textures, and positioning of the elements.
  • Ensure that you use the Von-Restorff Effect sparingly to avoid overkill. Besides, when you highlight too many elements on the screen, learners are confused, and the importance of the truly critical piece of content is diluted. 

Also read: The Von Restorff Effect: How To Make Your Ideas Stick



The Psychology of Color in Web Design:

Understanding Color Psychology for Impactful Web Design:

The Influence of Colour on Memory Performance: A Review

101 Color Theory

Gestalt Principles for Designers – Applying Visual Psychology to Modern Day Design

Improve Your Designs With The Principles Of Closure And Figure-Ground 

Karla Gutierrez

Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT. ES:Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT.

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