5 reasons why social polls influence learning, and how to make the most of them

Polls can have huge influence on learning, especially in relation to changing opinions and behavior. But, they are also a great tool for sharing the wisdom of the crowd and for revealing hints and tips, and getting social learning online. We share 5 reasons you should consider using social polls in your elearning.

social polling learning

First, a couple of questions to get you thinking:

How important is the opinion of others to you? 

What if we told you that 72% of people we interviewed said they were influenced by the opinion of others?

What if we also told you that 85% of people we interviewed said they were influenced by respected experts? Would you identify with these statements?

Actually, these stats aren’t real (sorry!), but we wanted to show the influence that polls can have on your thinking. Whilst we all like to think that we are independent thinkers, set apart from the crowd, research shows we are very much influenced by what others think and do, and tend to follow the crowd, even when we don’t realize that this is what we’re doing.

What do polls have to do with learning?

There was a good reason for us including polling in our authoring tool from the start.

When using polls in learning, you compare your own opinions or choices against those of other learners. This is a powerful way to influence opinions and change behaviors, as the image below shows:

open polls 1

An Elucidat polling results screen from an Open University project

5 reasons social polling impacts behavior

Here’s a list of five reasons why polling has such a big impact on behavior, with best practice tips for making the most of them in your elearning content.

Reason 1: Social proof

While we might not always admit it, or consciously know it, we look for acceptance from others—called social proof.

Stella Collins, in Neuroscience for Learning and Development, explains that we get a kick of Oxytocin, the “happy hormone”, when we feel included. Feeling part of the crowd boosts our self-esteem.

Tips for your own polls:

Keen to sway learners’ behaviors or attitudes? Use polls to highlight how different or similar their opinions are to those of peers and/or experts. If they are different, the chances are your learners will start to re-think their own stance in their desire to be accepted. If they are the same, they’ll feel rewarded for being part of the crowd, especially if they are in-line with the experts. A win either way.

Reason 2: FOMO

We are naturally intrigued about what others are doing, but even more powerful is our Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO. Sad but true, we actually feel anxious if we think we’re missing out on an opportunity, even if we don’t really know what it is.

The way FOMO works in the advertising world was demonstrated by Jagermiester. They dropped hints via Snapchat about an upcoming party that and advertised it as the place to be. This collected 1,000 followers, all keen not to miss out on this claimed-to-be-cool party, before knowing any real details about it.

Tips for your own polls:

If you want to motivate employees to implement a new process or change their behaviors, show poll results for those already doing it, or intending to do it, and follow up with stories of the great difference it can make.

Do this before you’ve explained all the details about what “it” is – use your polls as an attention grabber and to create intrigue.

medieval learning polls

A game created for Medieval Swansea in Elucidat posts poll results upfront on the homepage to intrigue visitors to find out more and to prompt them to cast their own vote.

Reason 3: Wisdom of Crowds

With social media at our fingertips, tapping into the wisdom of the crowd is easier now than ever before. And, it’s a sensible move.

“We can’t be experts on everything, so a good tool—often an effective shortcut—is to turn to people whose opinions we respect, and whose advice we seek. If those people tell us that something is useful, we are much more likely to try it ourselves.”

Design for How People Learn, Julie Dirksen

When you are on holidays in a new place, do you head to a busy restaurant with lots of locals in it or to the one that’s totally empty? We tend to go with the crowd (a little bit of FOMO kicks in here) as we assume they know.

Tips for your own polls:

Consider asking poll questions that bring out real crowd wisdom, rather than just opinions, to sway others in a positive way.

For example, ask, “Which of these five tools have proved most helpful in reducing costs? Which of them would you recommend to a new starter? “

Reason 4: Whose opinion counts?

In Design for How People Learn, Julie Dirksen asks, “Who’s going to sway your opinion more?

  • The CEO
  • Your boss
  • Colleagues
  • Renowned experts”

Numerous elearning courses open with a message from the CEO, but is that really the opinion that’s going to influence employees the most? We’re far more likely to be swayed by our peers—i.e. colleagues and friends—and by experts in the field.

Tips for your own polls:

Take a leaf out of the Elucidat powered Open University game, and look to include experts’ opinions alongside those of peers:

Learners judge how “unethical” real life scenarios involving lies are. They then get to see how their opinion compares with those of other learners and of the experts. They can then take a closer look at the experts’ views:

open polls 2

Reason 5: Unexpected results surprise and sway

Research by the Stanford School of Business into political polls and their influence on voting found that polls with unexpected outcomes tended to shift opinion more than those that told people what they already knew.

It seems that FOMO is rearing its head again here—if there’s a real curve-ball that comes to light through a poll, we’re bound to be intrigued about it and wonder it’s the next “big thing”.

Tips for your own polls:

Don’t be scared to ask questions that are bound to divide opinion. Use them to myth bust: if you think most learners have a misconception about something important, run a poll and surprise them with the answers that experts give on the matter.

A final tip: shout about positive behaviors with leaderboards

Research cited in Stella Collins’ Neuroscience for Learning and Development shows that we are far more influenced by hearing positive stories of crowd behavior than we are by the negative ones.

For example, a doctor’s surgery, rather than displaying how many people missed appointments (thereby making this seem an OK thing to do) displayed how many people came to their appointments. They saw a corresponding increase in attendance.

Since we all tend to follow the crowd, telling learners about something great that the crowd is doing makes sense, right?

Couple your polls with positive stories and examples of learning in action, and use leaderboards to shout about learners’ achievements.

Key takeaways

Polls are not just another way to ask a question in elearning. They are an amazingly influential tool in changing and shaping opinions and behavior, and for sharing tips and expertise.

They can be created and deployed in minutes. If you’d like to give them a test run, why not evaluate Elucidat and test our poll feature. Other people are… 😉