Internal training is necessary, especially in this industry and even more so when it’s linked to compliance - but it is not always embraced by learners, who can see it as a chore or a tick box exercise.

To add to the challenge, global corporations struggle to come up with messages that work across multiple markets and cultures, whilst also still managing to be interesting and surprising in some way, so that the audience enjoys – and most importantly, engages with – the content.

Ideally, learning should also be more than just a classroom exercise – it should lead to the synthesis of new information and long term behaviour changes. So how do we develop training programmes that truly help the content stick? It’s not easy to provide a one-size-fits all, especially for global, cross-cultural teams  - but there are some lessons from behavioural science that can help, and we’ve covered them below.


How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

We can only process so much information at once, so the best way to make sure people genuinely learn great swathes of knowledge is to break it up into manageable bite-size pieces.

Spread training courses across multiple modules and give learners the opportunity to rest between each of them. This will allow the skills they’ve learned to consolidate themselves before jumping into the next module.

Picture superiority effect

Pictures are easier to understand and recall than words. The reason is that we codify images in our minds in two ways: first as the visual image we’re seeing and second as the concept that the image represents.

So you see a picture of a dog and your mind says ‘that’s a dog’, while at the same time memorising the visual image of the dog itself.

Ensure learning materials include as many consistent visual elements as possible. This will give your learners the best chance of recalling the skills they need to know when they have to use them in real-life situations later on.

Spacing effects

We don’t learn new information in one fell swoop. If we did you’d never have needed to revise for your exams back in school. Instead we learn with repeated messages, delivered over multiple media, spread out over healthy periods of time. We need that ‘space’ between learning sessions to crystallise new ideas in our minds.

Break training courses into a series of modules filled with exercises that learners can dip into when they are ready for more.

Commitment devices

We like to behave consistently with what we say we’ll do. If we don’t, it creates ‘cognitive dissonance’ in our minds that feels so uncomfortable, we have to resolve it. It’s why we ask people to commit to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’beforethey give testimony in a court of law. The lie then feels uncomfortable for the majority of people.

Ask your learners to publicly commit to using what they have learned every day. This creates a powerful motivation for them to stay true to their word and really try to integrate the new skills into their work.

Reciprocity bias

If you scratch my back, I’ll very likely scratch yours. Humans are hardwired to return kindnesses we feel we have received. This is a strong, powerful global social rule, meaning that our initial actions can have a big affect on how others respond in reaction.

As an organisation, you can harness this by making an active and vocal commitment to your learners, whether that is your commitment to their career progression or to helping and supporting them to learn new skills. In turn, your learners will feel inclined to make their own pledge to respond, which will likely mean they take a more consciously active part in the training programme.

The rhyme-as-reason effect

Not only are statements that rhyme more catchy, studies show we actually believe them more. This is strange, but true - we are also more likely to remember sentences that rhyme than those that don’t, possibly due to the additional ease we have in mentally processing them.

You can make use of this by reviewing training course materials to see if you can simplify any of the messaging to make it more memorable for participants. Can you add in some rhymes? If you can, it will etch a clear instruction into the learner's minds. If the instruction rhymes, it feels even more like wise advice to follow.

While this can feel like a daunting task when you need to translate materials into several languages, approach the task by working on transcreation, rather than translation. Brief your markets to review course materials and create memorable and sticky messages that work for them.


Games are activities we pursue purely for pleasure, which means we’re strongly motivated to participate in them.

Gamification is the process of adding components from games to mandatory tasks to make them “feel” more like games. How do we do this? Well, we  borrow things like adding narrative structure, elements of challenge, awarding points and badges for actions along the way, and adding in regular and varied feedback loops.

Build on current learning programmes by creating a more in-depth, interactive ‘gamified’ version of the course, inviting learners to play a role and guide a character through various scenarios and practice new behaviours along the way. To make this even more effective, invite your learners to create avatars in their own image; this will make them even more invested in the outcome of the scenario.

Adapting existing content

You don't always have to start from scratch. There are loads of practical steps you can take to make the most of and adapt your current training content to make it more dynamic and engaging.

Add visuals and inter-activity

Why not take the pain of huge and – let’s face it – boring written manuals away? Instead, you could make this type of content more audience-friendly by turning it into a series of videos, animations, podcasts, checklists and quizzes.

Adding visual features, including animations and infographics to bring the main facts and figures to life is always a quick win. Flow charts to help trainees visualise processes are also incredibly valuable to your learners. By incorporating mini-quizzes and downloadable checklists, the process also becomes more interactive which allows your learners to hold themselves to account and celebrate how far they’ve come.

Try podcasts

Audio is also really effective in the learning process, and can offer some respite from the increased use of video during remote working. Consider using podcasts - they can be a fun way to share information in a format that allows employees to multitask and listen on their commute or while they’re doing the shopping or the laundry. It’s a great way to bring policy information to life, for example, by featuring internal experts debating issues with colleagues to help explain the thinking behind them.

Adapting to the new normal

As remote working continues, it is vital that your employees absorb and engage with key training messages more than ever. We all need to adapt quickly to the ever-evolving changes in requirements around us. As you look to up- and re-skill your teams to cope with new situations, this is a great time to consider how behavioural science can play a role in revolutionising your existing training programmes as well as creating new ones.

Shelley Hoppe is agency director at Spoon London