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Tricking The Mind to Learn: Benefiting From Cognitive Biases

Tricking The Mind to Learn: Benefiting From Cognitive Biases

Left to itself, learning is a fairly simple process. We see; we experience; and we learn. Our mind somehow assimilates the information that interests it, and it gets retained.

The challenge arises when we look to impart formal, sit-down training. That is when things get tricky. Any training that is mundane doesn’t stick and the mind begins to forget as quickly as it learns.

But there’s a secret of the mind that aids and engages the audience – Cognitive Bias.

Before we jump up and look for ways to use Cognitive Bias to our advantage, let’s first see what it actually is.

We view everything – data, experiences, situations, people, etc. – through the filter of our individual perceptions; and we use Cognitive Bias to build our own ‘subjective social reality’ regardless of whether it is rational, logical, or fact-based. This is often not a one-off situation but a systematic pattern.

So, how can eLearning benefit from this systematic pattern? There are multiple ways that course architects can use Cognitive Biases to aid the process of eLearning; and to do this, let’s see the learn more about the seven types of biases:

1. The Bandwagon effect:

This makes people look at what the majority is doing and follow the same path, albeit unknowingly. It’s the best way to get your users interested in your course. Simply tell them how everybody is joining up, and they’ll come prepared for something meaningful.

2. Availability heuristic:

Examples! That’s what defines this bias. For example, when you see frequent news about shark attacks, you start to believe that, that is a common cause of “death at the ocean” when the truth is that a lot more people die at the ocean because of drowning.  Use such shocking, thrilling and exciting examples to help the user retain information easily.

3. Framing effect:

Simply by presenting the same information in different ways can make people react differently to it. Inviting the users to a discussion by showing both sides and asking their opinion can cement facts better.

4. Curse of knowledge:

This is a tricky one. Assuming a certain level of knowledge among the audience can lead the trainer into skipping some basic information that some users may not possess.

5. Reactance:

Reactance is the desire to do something opposite to what has been advised just because you don’t want to accept you were wrong. A trainer can ride on this tendency to create interesting branching/role-play scenarios.

6. The 'Sunk Cost' fallacy:

The mind’s tenacious hold on an idea, and the time and effort invested, can make it difficult to correct your course of action even when the result is not going to be as expected. Similar to Reactance, this can be used to for branching and/or role-play scenarios.

7. Anchoring effect:

People have a tendency to rely heavily on one piece, usually the first, of information while taking future decisions. Identify the important points and plan your course around them, helping your users draw the right conclusions and take correct decisions.


It is incredible, the mind’s ability to hinder or aid the process of learning. Once you learn to identify these biases, you can use them to your advantage, driving home your point with much more emphasis and with a greater chance of retention.


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