Meeting Learners’ Needs: What We Can Learn from the ‘Lazy User Theory’

The ‘Lazy User Theory’ was proposed by Mikael Collan and Franck Tétard in 2007. The theory centred around the use of mobile services and proposed that users select solutions to their needs, based on a) their current state and b) the level of effort that each solution would require.

The model below provides an overview of this theory:



Consider the following example:

The theory is simple, but it has become increasingly relevant with our growing reliance on smart phones and other devices. In the digital age, tech-savvy individuals have become skilled at finding relevant information in a heartbeat. However, many of us have become so accustomed to this that we become frustrated when we struggle, or are unable, to easily locate what we are looking for. In short, we are becoming ‘lazy users’.

The same is true for many modern learners—especially when it comes to the online environment. But what does this mean for those who want to ensure that meaningful learning can still take place? Below are some tips on how you can design online learning in a way that overcomes the lazy user phenomenon.


Clearly define the learners’ needs, then meet them

This is often stressed in Learning Experience Design, and yet many educators or organisations still look at this from their perspective, rather than the learner’s. Also consider whether different learners have different needs; you might need to offer different learner paths based on these.

At the end of the day, learners will remember very little of any additional information provided (unless they have actively sought this out). However, this information is likely to have an adverse effect as it will take away from any efforts to stress key points. By focusing your course on the right information and making this stand out, learners will feel that their needs are being met.

Create a path, rather than an environment

While e-learning software and Learning Management Systems go a long way in creating a learning environment, lazy users prefer to get what they need, with the least amount of effort. While trimming content to focus on the most important information goes a long way in terms of catering to this, you also need to consider the navigational aspects of how your course is delivered. Ensure that your learning path is clear and minimise the effort required to navigate through this.

Discourage passivity

People are creatures of habit. If your learning solution is providing information, rather than encouraging interaction and application, learners are likely to fall into a pattern of passive consumption. The risk is that mode of functioning can influence their behaviour in those instances where interaction is required. By including several activities into your course, you can encourage a more engaged mindset that will change how the learner acts in those instances where content is provided.

Feed your dopamine addicts

One way in which we can discourage passivity is by recognising the role that dopamine plays in modern users’ behaviours. The lazy user seeks a ‘quick fix’ to their problems, and with the internet representing a common ‘go-to’ for these users, their exposure to platforms that trigger dopamine release has increased. Since dopamine increases working memory, making extrinsic reward systems a part of the online learning journey will help encourage the lazy user to continue engaging with a course.

The Conclusion:

Online course designers often cater to the ideal learner: One that possessed intrinsic motivation, a passion for learning and a genuine interest in the course’s topic. However, the reality is that the majority of one’s learners do not exhibit such ideal behaviours. By recognising the emerging patterns in human behaviour and how this affects engagement in an online environment, learning professionals can frame their approach in a way that caters to ‘lazy users’ without this being at the cost of meaningful learning.



Author: Millie van der Westhuizen

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