By | October 20, 2015

It seems obvious that if you take something mundane and add a fun element to it, that it will most likely change people’s behavior. Turning work into a game is not a new concept. As Mary Poppins said, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” right?  That’s why mom made airplane sounds with the spoonful of mashed peas and we actually opened our mouths. The concept seems simple enough. Yet, adding gamification elements to a Learning Management System and compliance training takes a little more than sugar or airplane sounds; it takes science.

Behavioral Science and the Learning Management System

Behavioral Science explores the reasons behind human behavior and draws from a number of theories of why people do what they do. In our previous article, Loving the game: How behavioral science changed our user interface, we explained the underlying factors of how we designed the new gamified user experience: Triggers, Ability level and Motivation. When designing the gaming elements of the Relias interface, we made sure to account for all three factors. To successfully influence behavior change, the game design must 1) cue or trigger the desired behavior(s) 2) make the target behavior(s) easier to do and 3) provide effective and well-timed incentives to increase the target behavior(s). The new user interface and gaming elements were made available to customers in mid-October. Our research team will continuously evaluate the effects of the new gaming elements on staff behavior and will continue to adjust and improve it as the data rolls in.  There will be results to come!

Behavioral Science and Course Content

Now that the interface and Learning Management System have been fashioned to drive compliance and completion, how are we using that “spoonful of sugar” in our course content to increase knowledge and performance? Again, we apply the three factors that influence behavior when designing our content –Triggers, Ability and Motivation.

Triggers: Cue learners to engage in target behaviors

Assessments. Pretests provide cues to learners on what concepts are important to learn.  Scenario-based questions help evaluate whether the learner can apply knowledge and procedures within the decision making process. Assessments can eventually help Relias create adaptive learning experiences that recommend courses based on a learner’s level of understanding and skill.

Ability: Designing courses to make them easier and more enjoyable

Micro-learning. Short courses, under 10-20 minutes, break important concepts into bite-size portions. The focused learning lets users demonstrate knowledge through scenarios and stories and apply their knowledge instead of clicking and reading through pages and pages of review content with little opportunity to respond and get feedback.

Motivation: Incentives that keep learners engaged

Frequent opportunities to respond and receive feedback. Within the design of the courses, there are various ways to respond and receive feedback. The feedback received is more than just “correct” and “incorrect.” The feedback provides explanations, simulated consequences and additional opportunities to learn from their decisions.

Gaming elements. Implementing simulated environments where learners must escape a building while keeping their clients safe, identify choking hazards in meals presented to patients or being in the shoes of a HIPAA compliance officer who must identify HIPAA violations provides engagement and purpose to the learning experience. Before learners know it, the course is complete and they have reviewed or learned important information they need for their job.

Today’s learners are on the go and autonomous. They need purposeful and meaningful training experiences that relate to what they do every day.


Learn more about our user interface’s gaming elements and experience some of our new course content based on behavioral science.

Emaley McCulloch, M.Ed., BCBA

Vice President, Relias Institute

Vice President, Relias Institute||In 2008 Emaley McCulloch co-founded Autism Training Solutions, LLC and is currently the Vice President of Relias Institute at Relias Learning. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and holds an MA in Special Education. She has over 20 years’ experience in the field of autism and ABA and has provided and overseen services to individuals between the ages of 18 months to 24 years in homes, schools and clinical settings. For eight years she served as a consultant and supervisor at agencies based in Hawaii and Japan where she trained groups of professionals and parents.


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