Behaviour science, L&D and habitual tools

woman showing apple and bitten doughnut

This post reflects on our conversation yesterday around the themes of behavioural science, habit formation and the tools to support it: “Beyond learning tech: conversation about tools for behaviour change”. The session outline is here. These are my reflections the day afterwards, not a report of the content of the event.

In planning the conversation, Roy, Mike and I orbited the idea that behavioural science and L&D have many shared goals and foundations (audience insight, the desire for concrete outcomes and the use of evidence based models in design). And yet, L&D is not often bringing behavioural science into the experience design toolkit. Participants were pretty unanimous that behaviour change is the goal, otherwise “what’s the point” of a programme or design. Right?

We were also interested, from a product management perspective, in the idea of habit forming tools. These are both the outcome of behavioural science in design (Spotify and Duolingo were two we discussed) and the tools we can use to encourage behaviour change. My own challenge to L&D is that our products, learning platforms, are weak in habit formation and might be a poor choice as a result. Better to consider the tools of work such as Slack, Teams and Google as our kit of parts for behaviour change. And yet, as was emphasised, “do we want the LMS/LXP to be a habitual tool, is that what they are for?”. There is a valuable knot to pick at here, and I want to return to it in a future session.

Mike described some of the most valuable behaviour science insights arriving through the consideration of systems in organisations and in our social contexts. Hence, behaviour change interventions and campaigns happen “out there” in the wild. L&D is often constrained in an event model – programmes, workshops and courses – weakening the potential of our impact on behaviour beyond the duration of the programme. Real design transformation is needed here, I believe, and a campaign model has merit.

We talked through the eight drivers of behaviour and how they can be used as an analysis and evidence gathering framework. They can help us understand existing behaviour and establish a benchmark against which we design. And then take us into selecting levers to pull and tactics to employ. This is where the research based evidence comes to life and the possible challenge of observing behaviour. A pragmatic approach is recommended, gathering what evidence we can and pressing for more without being unrealistic. The reality of the designer’s challenge pokes through the theory here.

Some juicy quotes

In hosting these events, we try to encourage open conversation. A good index of that achievement is the language people use to express their ideas. Personally, I think we hit a new height yesterday with some pithy contributions. ” Duolingo – 75 days in a row and then I gave up. Did not care about the points, the nagging. The drivers pissed me off.😀” was one contribution in considering the eight drivers of behaviour and how streaks can backfire on users if not used with care. And then: “They should make LMSs that are less shit then : )” – offered as the conversation turned to L&D tools as habitual choices and the barriers faced.

What next?

As expected, we scratched the surface of a deep and broad topic in one hour. This whetted my appetite. It was a rich and energetic discussion and I am keen to learn more and hear more views. So, what might further conversations include? Learning design for behaviour change is one possibility. Behaviour science for learning design, another. Products and tools for behaviour change, a further option. Let us know what you think. If you were there, chip in.

Street sign saying "Good behaviour zone".
A signal of desired behaviour

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