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On the campaign trail… we explore the rise in learning campaigns

This post was written by Kath Fleet and first appeared on the Epic Blog on 23rd July 2013.

on the campaign trailRecently at Epic we’ve been debating whether or not traditional, self-contained ‘courses’ are still relevant in today’s world of vast connectivity. Instant access to large quantities of available content, the rise of informal learning, mobile apps, digital resources, just-in time learning, performance support and ‘side-kicks’ has made us wonder how much longer bespoke learning providers like ourselves will be commissioned to make ‘courses’.

Is it possible, we wondered, that structured, workplace learning as we used to know it will soon cease to dominate in the way it has done for the past few decades?

The rising interest in campaign-led learning

Take a look at Lars Hyland’s blog ‘Think campaign not course’.

But hold on just a minute… Would you be happy to be treated by a surgeon who had learnt everything he or she knew by browsing on YouTube from his or her bedroom? You may be braver than I am, but I want to know my doctors have been trained, mentored, tested, fed back to and accredited before they bring a scalpel anywhere near me.

The complex and the new still need to be, and probably always will need to be, addressed by formal courses that build in scaffolding and support for learners, there will always be skills and levels of understanding which simply require you to put in the hours to gain proficiency.

At our recent ‘LearningNow: why won’t they comply?’ event, we ran a series of interactive sessions. Here are a few highlights of what people shared with us:

“Create opportunities for discussion not page turning”

“Consider how you can move from a course to an ongoing campaign”

“Reinforce throughout the year”

Tie learning outcomes to behaviour change

It certainly seems to us that you are crying out for fresh approaches to mandatory training. So in the light of these findings, and the trends outlined at the beginning of this article, we’ve been getting on the campaign trail.

How campaigns rather than courses can influence behaviour

We’ve been exploring how learning ‘campaigns’ rather than ‘courses’ could be used to influence our behaviour at work.

Let’s take a look at a case in point. Most people already know quite a lot about health and safety in the office environment – how to sit at a monitor and that they shouldn’t run around with a laptop in one hand and a mug of hot tea in the other, but people still hunch over laptops and hurt their backs and scald themselves by spilling tea.

These people arguably don’t need a 30 minute e-learning course telling them about the possible outcomes of this behaviour – they need reminders not to do it – triggers in the environment – and this may be better accomplished with a campaign.

Isn’t ‘campaign’ another word for blended learning?

In some sense the idea of a campaign has been long preceded by what we have traditionally called blended learning. Blending the methods and media of learning is something that self motivated learners do all the time without prompting. For example if they wish to learn a new language they may watch a DVD, read a book, take a distance learning course, visit the country, and join an online forum.

Blended learning acknowledges that people generally learn more and have better recall when the experience created for them has been multi-disciplinary, multi-media, and multi-sensory. In other words, the more ways we have of engaging with content in order to learn, apply, embed and recall, the better that learning will be (Clark & Mayer, 2011).

What separates campaigns from simply blending is three-fold: how they are persuasively designed to (sometimes subliminally) influence behaviour, how they utilise many different channels of internal and external communication (not just your LMS) and how long they are sustained for.

Creating a campaign involves creating an immersive ever-present experience that utilises physical as well as virtual space. In terms of engagement this means that learners are always, constantly engaging in some way, shape or form with the learning content. It has an unconscious effect on behaviour and choices (well acknowledged by advertisers and marketers) as well as the very conscious benefit of being a constant source of performance support.

A campaign can also run for an indefinite period (see the 8 of the most successful ad campaigns of all time), and can change and evolve over time so that it never dates or becomes irrelevant. In other words there is also no temporal distinction between the time of learning and the time of need. Combined with the social aspect of learning this creates a powerful and flexible way to keep your knowledge and skills fresh.

Very clever campaign design can guide people towards the way of behaving that you want them to adopt – its control but subtle control, and with good intention. An example that you may well have seen cited before is the painting of a fly inside a urinal aimed at reducing poor aim and hence spillage. It worked because people naturally aimed at the fly without being told do it.

Do campaigns work?

Consider ‘Gangnam Style’. This huge hit by Korean pop star PSY is a perfect case in point. The song (and its accompanying dance) went ‘viral’ in August 2012. By December 2012 it had become the first YouTube video to reach one billion views. And if you doubt that viral dissemination can lead to actual behaviour change answer this: how many of us have mastered some of those moves, or know someone who has?

Proactive influencers can make a huge difference to viral spread. Identifying ‘the few’ that can influence the majority is an invaluable boost to any campaign – this is why many learning and development experts so often talk about identifying ‘champions’ to accelerate the rate of change or uptake of new ideas within an organisation.

So… have we managed to persuade you to adopt a campaign the next time you are seeking to influence behaviour in your organisation? If not then maybe you need more information on what a campaign consists of, who needs to be involved and how you can track learner contributions to a less formalised approach to learning.

In that case, you’ll be looking for our When is it better to campaign than to train? insight. And for more on the findings of our recent event see ‘Why won’t they comply?‘.