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Three tiny habits: what I’ve learned

This post was written by David Rogers and first appeared on the Epic blog on 8th February 2013.

three tiny things on learningIn a recent blog post, I wrote about how I was about to participate in BJ Fogg’s three tiny habits experiment. So how did it go and what have I learned? Let me tell you…

My main aim was to get into the habit of doing more creative writing. The idea was that I would embed this (and a couple of other habits) by building them into my everyday routine and by taking very small steps towards the ultimate goal – the theory being not to try for too much too soon and get bored and frustrated. So I decided I would write a single sentence when I sat down on the sofa after work every day for the week.

So did I do it every day? Well, to be honest, no. I did it four out of five days, which is a start at least. I have realised that the ‘anchor’ I gave myself to change the behaviour was a poor choice – I don’t want to fire up my laptop as soon as I sit down at home after a day at work. I’m going to try again, with a modified anchor – I’ll write my sentence after I fire up the computer to check my emails or surf the web – i.e. when I’m ready to start looking at the screen again.

And what did I learn? The main thing is that changing behaviour is hard. Even when I actively wanted to make a change, I wasn’t able to do so as completely as I would have liked. I think that’s something worth remembering for those of us that work in learning.

I’ve also been wondering how this lesson can be applied to e-learning and the kinds of learning we create that aim to spark a behaviour change, for example a lot of compliance courses. Well, Fogg reckons there are three stages to behaviour change. The first is inspiration – and I think that’s where the kind of ‘traditional’ courses we make are most effective (or can be, when done well). A good compliance course can persuade the learner that their behaviour change is necessary, that it benefits them (and probably their employer) and can help them understand what their new behaviour should be.

What traditional courses are less good at is embedding that new behaviour as part of the learner’s routine – making it a habit. To really change behaviour, a single shot piece of e-learning may not always be enough. Rather, it should be the centrepiece of a collection of resources that build up to create an overall learning experience, leading to real and meaningful behaviour changes.

Part of the solution to this may be tied in with new technologies, and in particular, mobile learning. Mobile isn’t just an alternative to traditional desktop learning – it can be used in a different way to complement a course. For example, ‘just in time’ refresher tutorials or quizzes can be used to keep learners up-to-date and the issues fresh in their minds. QR codes can be used to give specific instructions about how to complete tasks. The possibilities with mobile learning are growing, and the development of Tin Can API suggests these possibilities are going to be further extended.

But it’s not just about mobile technologies. You can keep issues fresh in learners’ minds through more old-fashioned methods e.g. mailshots or posters to put up around the office. Learners can be encouraged to do something as simple as using their calendar in Outlook or other mail servers to create reminders for themselves until the new behaviours become second nature. Learning designers are realising that more and more tools are at our disposal and that using a mixture of these is likely to be most effective way to embed new habits.

As for me, my novel hasn’t made the rapid progress I may have hoped for, but ‘three tiny habits’ has given me plenty to think about. And I’ve flossed my teeth every day, so I can’t be too unhappy with my achievements!