Motivating people to learn digital skills: how behavioural insights can help

This blog explores how behavioural insights can be harnessed to drive the intrinsic motivation of people to learn digital skills. Below we present some practical lessons for skills policy derived from different training initiatives that are successfully accelerating motivation in learning.

Over half of adults do not have the problem solving skills necessary for the technology rich environments of the workplace today. Meanwhile, jobs are being automated and a number of professional skills are becoming obsolete. Now more than ever, people need to adapt by becoming lifelong learners.

The problem is that even though lifelong learning is widely recognized as essential by governments, training is not reaching those who need it most. In response governments and charities sometimes target disadvantaged groups through upskilling initiatives such as the e-inclusion programme Digitaal.Talent@Gent in Belgium or digital skills training offered by The Good Things Foundation in the UK.

The recently launched Nesta report ‘Designing Inclusive Skills Policy for the Digital Age’ concludes that initiatives like these need to go beyond targeting vulnerable groups. They will fall short unless individuals are confident in their ability to learn and stay motivated to keep their skills up to date.

Identifying barriers that prevent people from learning and evaluating approaches to overcome these can help skills policy to become more inclusive, targeted, and ultimately effective: behavioural insights could prove fruitful in this respect.

Bringing the ‘user’ to the centre of thinking

The Behavioural Insights Team defines four simple ways to apply behavioural insights through the EAST framework. If the aim of a policy or initiative is to nudge a specific behaviour - such as undergoing training -there are four key rules to be taken into account in its design: make it easy, attractive, social and timely.

Make it effortless to take up the service or policy
Make the experience enjoyable, preferably personalised, with incentives built in.
Make use of the fact that people influence each other in social situations.
Prompt people when they are likely to be most receptive.

The EAST framework is useful for policymakers who want to create an environment conducive to learning. One where different types of learners choose to take up training because they want to and where it’s straightforward; and because it will positively impact on their lives.

Below, we highlight existing digital skills training models from the Digital Frontrunners countries and how they exemplify the rules of the EAST framework.


We recently wrote about how Finland aims to ‘democratise’ AI and make it the new ‘normal’. A free online course The ‘Elements of AI’ was launched after the Finnish government made recommendations of turning Finland into a leading country in the application of AI. The course has now become the most popular course in the country and so far 80,000 students have signed up for it. It exemplifies ease of access and use in several ways. It is free, and signing up only takes a few clicks. The pace of training can be selected depending on whether the learner prefers a self-directed or deadline-based mode. The well-structured content is divided into separate categories; the practical tests give instant feedback for the learner and motivates them to complete the course.

Using public spaces to teach digital skills is another way of making it easy for people to complete training. For example, the EU has identified how libraries can help in the skilling challenge by launching a Public Libraries 2020 project. One of the projects is called Libraries with Digital Lead, dedicated to training local communities with a toolkit consisting of various courses and workshops around digital skills. The initiative exemplifies the untapped potential in reaching vulnerable groups of people by utilizing a safe space where people are already in a learning mindset.


Sparking people’s curiosity can lead to motivation to learn, especially when it comes to digital skills.

Gamification is one way to do this. Belgian training centre Technobel is incorporating innovative and playful pedagogies in its digital skills training. The centre trains employees and job seekers in new technologies and uses games and other interactive environments to implement technological knowledge and theory. One of their training methods is Algo-Bot that teaches programming through a video game and breaks the conventions of traditional teaching by delivering the course through an immersive environment. Another of their recently launched projects is called SoftSkillers - a game-like sensory tool that promotes non-cognitive skills such as communication and strategic skills.


According to the EAST framework, encouraging people to make a commitment to others can effectively nudge desired behaviours. Building a self-supportive culture that is community-driven is a good way to do this.

Sirius Liege Coding School has realised that new knowledge and skills are best acquired in an interactive ‘peer-to-peer’ situation. The school is working on a cooperative model and providing hands-on training with the focus on refugees and people who find difficulties in entering the labour market. The idea is to create an online learning platform which is managed by the students themselves. The participants are encouraged to share, teach and create content for the platform where anyone can improve their digital skills. Whilst collectively creating the course structure, the participants are encouraged to conceive new job opportunities for themselves with the help of various networking possibilities such as Digital Dating sessions.


There might be untapped potential to drive motivation in times of disruption. Changing a job, being displaced or moving to another country are big changes; they are also opportunities for mindset shifts and to learn new skills.

According to the Behavioural Insights Team, helping people to plan their response to such changes can help remove barriers that prevent action. For example, the Public Employment Services in Sweden (PES) recognizes the need to stimulate the behaviour of job seekers more towards internally driven re- and upskilling by empowering them with tools to take ownership of their own career and skills development.

One of PES’s current initiatives is called Project Mirjam which is offering tailored coaching and mentoring programmes for newly-arrived immigrant women at risk of being unemployed. The aim is to find effective methods and tools to shorten their pathway to employment. This initiative has resulted in increasing the job landing rate of this vulnerable group and diminishing the gender inequality in the Swedish labour market.

Digital Frontrunners team has produced two reports: ‘Delivering Digital Skills’ - a guide that shares nine steps to preparing the workforce for digital transformation and ‘Designing inclusive skills policy for the digital age’ - a blueprint for policymakers and other stakeholders to be used in designing inclusive skills policies for the digital age. Read more about our work here.


Karoliina Helkkula

Karoliina Helkkula

Karoliina Helkkula

Programme and Research Support, Digital Frontrunners

Karoliina supported Digital Frontrunners, Nesta's programme for future skills.

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Juan Casasbuenas

Juan Casasbuenas

Juan Casasbuenas

Curriculum and Content Manager

Juan was a Curriculum and Content Manager supporting the Digital Frontrunners and Global Innovation Policy Accelerator programmes.

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