Designing software is a lot like teaching students in a classroom: Both designers and teachers introduce new concepts and processes to encourage learning. And in both cases, if a person can complete tasks easily, they’re empowered to continue learning. However, when a task is difficult, they may feel discouraged.

As a user experience designer at Motivis Learning, I study how teachers and students use our software. This is a key component of our product design, because it helps us see what obstacles might be in the way of people successfully accomplishing tasks within our software.

When we design a new feature, we perform usability tests to see how and why different people use it. Ultimately, we want to know why someone would click on one button over another, or what their expectations are. Sometimes, we discover that people struggle to use a feature, which is when we look to the Fogg Behavior Model to see where we can make improvements.

The Fogg Behavior Model

fogg behavior modelPsychologist BJ Fogg theorized that a trigger, motivation, and ability to do something must all be present in order for a behavior to happen. It’s like winning a race: The trigger is the starting flag, the motivation is the desire to win, and the ability is speed. If any one of these are missing, the race can’t be won.

Here are a few ways to use Fogg’s model in the classroom.


External triggers are anything that signal it’s time for participation. In the classroom, this a question, group discussion, or project assignment from the teacher.

In product design, external triggers like notifications and messages prompt a user to engage with the software, and will usually tell them what they need to do next.

But, triggers can also be internal. For example, students may ask a question or share their personal insight without being prompted. When their experiences resonate with the material, they’re more likely to engage. If triggers have shifted from external to internal, students have started to learn independently, making connections with their own experiences that leave lasting impressions.


In product design, we use motivation to understand how much a person actually wants to complete a task in our software. Teachers can apply the same principle to classroom participation.

According to Fogg, core motivators are the desire to seek out pleasure, hope, and social acceptance, and avoid pain, fear and rejection. And, attitudes and expectations can deeply affect someone’s motivation to do something. For example, a student may avoid answering questions because they’re afraid to sound dumb in front of their peers.

When we design our software features, we try to take into account the experiences students and teachers have with different education platforms. We’re mindful of the fact that look and feel affects how people use software, and we use the layout, color, and typography to make the experience as intuitive as possible.

Try to find out the different attitudes and expectations of your students. What are your students afraid of? What do they want to accomplish? Which of these can you tap into while teaching?


It’s human nature to take the path of least resistance, and that’s as true in product design as it is in the classroom. Fogg says the simplicity factors are time, money, physical effort, social deviance, and routine.

In product design, we know that a person is more likely to to engage with software that’s simple to use. We measure ease of use with a person’s comfort-level while trying to accomplish a task. If they get frustrated, we know there’s an opportunity to make it simpler.

In the classroom, you can ask: How do these factors play into student engagement? What are some ways to foster participation as part of a routine? What distracts students from the material?

Key Takeaways

  • The Fogg Behavior Model can help you uncover different obstacles your students face. Engage them by doing the following:
  • Create triggers to signal it’s time for participation, and encourage students to act on their internal triggers.
  • Motivate them by aligning their wants and needs to the subject matter.
  • Determine potential learning roadblocks, and adjust teaching methods accordingly.

When we build features, we constantly test our assumptions. Apply this in the classroom by asking students to share ideas about how they want to engage in their learning. And, if you are looking for more learning ideas, check out these four marketing tactics to use in the classroom.