How to embed learning

In a previous post, I talked about how transitions in people’s lives are critical in changing behaviour. They are too in the workplace:

How do you develop learning & training programmes?

I commissioned the University of the Arts to co-design a programme that helped staff develop and apply cooperative behaviours as part of our Cooperative Council programme.

We started with the vision that people’s motivations are shaped by their values and needs. They started by understanding how new commissioners and service managers learn. We wanted to root the learning programme not just into how people wanted to learn or needed to learn, but also their daily activities so that the learning could fit into these and explore how to influence others to work cooperatively.

What principles for learning?

Through this discovery, we identified the following behavioural design principles:

  1. Messenger

We are heavily influenced by who communicates information

Action to help to learn

  • Create ways for a person’s colleague to share how the activity helped them
  • Create ways for their manager to communicate the need

2. Incentives

Our responses to incentives are shaped by predictable mental shortcuts such as strongly avoiding losses

Action to help people to learn

  • Show people how much time and how many resources each learning activity will take

3. Norms

We are strongly influenced by what others do

Action to help people to learn

  • Show how other people have used the learning

4. Defaults

We “go with the flow” of pre-set options

Action to help people to learn

  • Encourage other people to share how they’ve used the learning
  • Suggest specific frameworks and methods for people to develop their behaviours

5. Salience

Our attention is drawn to what is novel and seems relevant to us

Action to help people to learn:

  • Use different ways to communicate to different learning styles

6. Priming

Our acts are often influenced by sub-conscious cues

Action to help people learn:

  • Use language evoking the behaviours
  • Create situational cues and cultural probes to reinforce learning

7. Affect

Our emotional associations can powerfully shape our actions

8. Commitments

We seek to be consistent with our public promises and reciprocate acts

Action to help people to learn

  • Get people to share their commitment publicly through Yammer, email or in 1:1 or team meetings

9. Ego

We act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves

Action to help people to learn

  • Get people to share what they’ve learnt and how it improved their performance

Ways to embed learning

  1. Make it easy

Reduce the ‘hassle factor’ of taking up an action. The effort required to act often puts people off. Reducing the effort required can increase uptake or response rates.

Making the message clear often results in a significant increase in response rates to communications. In particular, it’s useful to identify how a complex goal can be broken down into simpler, easier actions.

Action to help people to learn:

  • Produce specific templates to apply these methods
  • Show links between their behaviour, the impact and the improved performance
  • Show links between the method, the behaviour and the framework
  • Show links between the behaviour and the community outcomes

2. Make it attractive

We are more likely to do something that our attention is drawn towards. Ways of doing this include the use of images, colour or personalisation.

Design rewards and sanctions for maximum effect. Financial incentives are often highly effective, but alternative incentive designs — such as lotteries — also work well and often cost less.

Action to help people to learn

  • Use diagrams, icons and design patterns to describe the process
  • Use extrinsic and intrinsic motivations from Staff Survey
  • Get people to use volunteering days to work shadow community group

3. Make it social

Describing what most people do in a particular situation encourages others to do the same. Similarly, policymakers should be wary of inadvertently reinforcing a problematic behaviour by emphasising its high prevalence.

Use the power of networks. We are embedded in a network of social relationships, and those we come into contact with shape our actions. Governments can foster networks to enable collective action, provide mutual support, and encourage behaviours to spread peer-to-peer.

Action to help people to learn:

  • Show how other people have used the learning using videos
  • Encourage other people to share how they’ve used the learning
  • Create ways for people to share their learning
  • Get people to immerse themselves and see how others are learning

4. Make it timely

Prompt people when they are likely to be most receptive. The same offer made at different times can have drastically different levels of success. Behaviour is generally easier to change when habits are already disrupted, such as around major life events.

Consider the immediate costs and benefits. We are more influenced by costs and benefits that take effect immediately than those delivered later. Policymakers should consider whether the immediate costs or benefits can be adjusted (even slightly), given that they are so influential.

Help people plan their response to events. There is a substantial gap between intentions and actual behaviour. A proven solution is to prompt people to identify the barriers to action and develop a specific plan to address them.

Action to help people to learn:

  • Promote when people need to write their personal development plans and appraisals
  • Show people how much time and how many resources each learning activity will take
  • Get people to think about what might make it difficult for them to complete the learning activity

How would staff use the learning so it wasn’t just a workshop but part of an ongoing activity? How can the methods help people want to learn? What learning styles would you like to learn more about?

What do you find is critical to embed learning? What would you improve? What gets in your way?

Head of Policy & Research @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese