A nudge makes it more likely that an individual will make a particular choice, or behave in a particular way, by altering the environment so that automatic cognitive processes are triggered to favour the desired outcome. As such it fits within a broader framework of behaviourist educational theory.
An individual's behaviour is not always in alignment with their intentions (termed a value-action gap). Humans are not fully rational beings; that is, people will often do something that is not in their own self-interest, even when they are aware that their actions are not in their best interest.
Enrolling in an online course, a student may have every good intention of fully participating and completing all learning activities, but for many reasons, may fall short of this intention.
Students have two distinct systems for processing information: System 1 is fast, automatic, and highly susceptible to environmental influences; System 2 processing is slow, reflective, and takes into account explicit goals and intentions. When situations are overly complex or overwhelming for an individual's cognitive capacity, or when an individual is faced with time-constraints or other pressures, System 1 processing takes over decision-making. System 1 processing relies on various judgmental heuristics to make decisions, resulting in faster decisions. Unfortunately, this can also lead to sub-optimal decisions and System 1 processing can over-ride an individual's explicit values and goals and such behaviour is resistant to change without a disruption to the environmental cues that trigger that behaviour.
Nudging techniques alter the environment so that when heuristic, or System 1, decision-making is used, the resulting choice will be a more positive or desired outcome.
Several different techniques exist for nudging, including defaults, social proof heuristics, and increasing the salience of the desired option.
A default option is the option an individual automatically receives if he or she does nothing. People are more likely to choose a particular option if it is the default option.
Social Proof Heuristics
A social proof heuristic refers to the tendency for individuals to look at the behaviour of other people to help guide their own behaviour.
When an individual's attention is drawn towards a particular option, that option will become more salient to the individual, and he or she will be more likely to choose to that option. Announcements, reminders, highlighting, etc. can all be used to increase the salience of particular options.