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Removing the friction from your learning solutions with Jeremy Roberts

This podcast is with Jeremy Roberts from Infinitude Creative Group on using the Fogg Behaviour Change Model for designing learning solutions that are easier to use and more engaging. The model takes into account your audiences’ motivation, their abilities and prompts to engage them. Jeremy uses some great examples of the model in action. He encourages L&D professionals to go beyond looking at the way other organisations are designing learning solutions to thinking why the marketing is working and how new services are being designed.

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An visual overview of the model

 fogg behaviour model

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Removing the friction from your learning solutions with Jeremy Roberts

Robin: Jeremy, you work a lot with the Fogg Behaviour Model. What is that model?

Jeremy: There's a lot of behaviour models out there or explanations why people do what they do. But I ran across the Fogg Model and I definitely appreciate its simplicity. It's basically the notion there are three variables that have to be in place in order for a behaviour to be enacted or behaviour to influence someone's behaviour. Motivation, ability and some sort of a trigger or prompt. So I have to have sufficient motivation to perform the act, I have to be able to, it has to be simple for me to do. And there has to be some sort of prompt or trigger that even alerts me to the possibility. Any time there's an absence of one of those, it decreases the likelihood that I would engage in that behaviour.

Robin: What's exciting about this as well is it’s quite often we go looking for learning design models and learning has this confusion between knowledge, information and behaviour change. Whereas the Fogg Behaviour Model is deeply embedded in behaviour change, rather than knowledge. It's a different starting point.

Jeremy: Yes

Robin: Where is the model most commonly used?

Jeremy: Where you see the more practical application of it for the most part, is in marketing. It is in companies trying to influence us to consume their products.

The example I often use that I think paints the clearest picture is Taco Bell and Lyft, a ride-sharing service, who partnered together to basically offer Taco Mode, if you called for Lyft or used the Lyft app to get a ride after a certain time of day, you would be presented with the option of having Lyft stop at Taco Bell. And the notion was, it was after 9:00 PM and there's a smaller number of reasons why you might need a lift after 9:00 PM and sometimes those reasons correlate to maybe you're a little hungry. So if you think about that and the attempt to influence the behaviour there, there's a trigger in the app itself, it's a simple yes or no question, "Do you want to stop at Taco Bell?" "Man, I hadn't even thought about that, but that sounds like a good idea."

The ability side of things, again, is very simple. I'm already in the app, I just tap yes. So really the only thing they don't completely control for in that scenario is the motivation. And again, what they've tried to do is said, "Look, I'm more likely to have a motivated consumer in these conditions. After 9:00 PM, calling a Lyft, I've narrowed the possibilities down."

So that's where there's so many examples of how those principles are being used to influence our behaviour as consumers and then it just started to translate into what does that look like from a learner perspective, as you change consumer to learner and you change product to learning solution. Can you have the same conversation? And I think you can.

Robin: Just to ask another question about that particular example. And you might not know the answer to this.

Do you know if that came about by questioning Lyft clients and Lyft’s gut reaction or data?

Jeremy: I don't know, although I can guess. I'm assuming there would be some sort of correlation between traffic, using data, to say that, when does my traffic peak from a Lyft perspective? When do I get a lot of late-night runs to Taco Bell and correlating those things.

Robin: You have a feeling it might have been a data-driven approach to figure out what the trigger was.

Jeremy: At a certain point, I would say to establish the time. I think it's somewhat clear that there might be a connection. But you could say, it's after 7:00 or it's after 8:00 or it's after 11:00. So I would say that there was some sort of data analysis to say 9:00 PM is the sweet spot for when this is more likely to be effective.

Robin: I'm partly asking because in L&D, there's a lot of talk about building learning into the workflow. But actually figuring how and when learning needs to happen or be triggered is more of a challenge. We need to develop better skills in thinking through and analysing when learning needs to happen.

Jeremy: I think that's in a lot of ways, a whole other area to look into. But you have to start at the workflow and understand what the learners are doing, when they're doing it and what type of support they're going to need for those particular tasks. Again, companies are doing that with us all the time. They're pushing triggers to us based on what they know about what we're doing and when we're doing it. What we're more likely to do in a certain set of conditions and in context. And we can do that with our learners as well.

Robin: In performance-focused instruction or design, there is lots of thinking through doing task analysis and designing learning to be able to practise tasks. But what you're talking about is "What's the task? What triggers there might be, geo-location or embedded, could actually be integrated into those"

Jeremy: To my knowledge, this doesn't exist yet. Although I don't see why it wouldn't before much longer. If I've got a device, a mobile device, smartphone or whatever, with geo-location turned on and I'm in my job. Let's say I'm some sort of a field worker, I work, I'm a repair person. I go to people's homes. If that device knows pretty precisely where I am, who I am, what time it is, I can very quickly narrow down a very small number of tasks that I'm likely to be performing at that moment. We can get pretty close to an understanding of what exactly it is that I might be doing. And then push or activate some sort of a prompt or trigger that asks me if I need support in that area. Do I need to watch a video or read a graph or retrieve a graphic that's going to show me a diagram of the piece of equipment I'm working on? As opposed to me having to make that determination on my own and then go try to find it.

Robin: There's actually a Australian company that's got that app working, It's called KnowHowHere. The CEO, David Hegarty, has previously done lots of work with performance support for office-based workers and realised the field-based workers don't have the same sort of performance tools . They've been able to bring together different possibilities into this new way of working.

Jeremy: I just don't think we think that way by default. And obviously I say that as a broad generalisation. Historically, L&D has not thought about that broader landscape or what lessons can be learned from innovation in our daily life and how our lifestyle is changing or how can I translate that into a more effective learning solution or a support solution for a worker.

Robin: It's just that sitting there considering what's happening in other marketing or sales or customer service and thinking "what can we learn from that?" as well. The other thing about this is some of the triggers you're talking about are almost pushing things out to people.

Jeremy: I think we do that. The most simple of push triggers are, I have a new course out or I have a new opportunity for you and I'll have a list and I'll send you an email. It's not like that doesn't happen. It absolutely does. But it's now looking beyond that to these contextual triggers, smarter triggers, that are more condition-based. And like you said, that are embedded into the workflow itself.

Robin: We've dived into the triggers. The other parts of the model, things like motivation. How are we thinking more about making that motivation?

Jeremy: So I think, for one, it's understanding the motivation at the learner level and knowing where, what those influences really are. And that does start to get into things like psychology. The motivations of seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, hope versus fear, social acceptance versus rejection. Those are powerful and those are the three key planks of the Fogg Behaviour Model in terms of what, at the highest level, does motivate us.

And I think the flip side of that is, what are the things that are de-motivators from a learning perspective. What I see a lot, is courses or videos that take a long time getting to anything meaningful from a learning perspective. There's a lot of setup, there's a lot of overview and I think that's not the way we're wired these days. We want to go to YouTube and find the exact video for the exact thing I want and move on. And so I think a lot of times, we turn off our learning solutions because we don't have a whole lot of patience to wait to get to what we need.

Robin: Actually, I don't tell this story very often but it’s a good example of turning off. This person said to me "Robin, I hate the learning experiences you produce that I have to do, the ones with a voice-over and a quiz at the end and I just can’t turn off the voice, yours make me do work.”

Jeremy: There's a lot of other elements to that. We are very focused on visuals in our company. We've got a team of graphic artists. You can have great content, yeah, you can get right to the point. But if you don't invest a little bit in the look or in the sound quality, for example, those are things that definitely trigger in someone, a very quick judgement reaction to the quality or credibility of what they're seeing or hearing.

So, if the very first thing I see is some grainy, amateurish graphic, again, the content behind that might be fantastic but I'm already a little bit turned off. And especially if I have another option or maybe the other option is nothing at all or, but certainly if I'm choosing between options, those are going to be things that are going to push me away from that option. And it has nothing to do with instructional design.

Robin: There was a study on ATM interface design.

Users were asked to test two versions, one that is just black and white boxes and one with a full color interface. The actual elements on the screen were all the same. People were asked which one was the most usable? The one that was more visually attractive was seen as being more usable.

Jeremy: Yes.

Robin: I quite often find the word engaging interesting,. When people say, "We want things to be more engaging." I sort of dive into it and do a whole, "What do you personally mean by engaging”

Jeremy: I think that can happen on a couple of different levels and I certainly don't want to say two things that contradict each other. Again, I do think it's context and what the learner's prepared for. In that support scenario, which is something has happened, I need help, I need it right now. I don't think engagement plays as big a role there, right? It is going to be, "How do I get to it as quickly as possible?" And then, "How does it help me as quickly as possible?" I may not particularly like the person that is talking to me, it doesn't matter. I just need the answer.

If I'm now preparing myself for more of a formal learning experience, where I'm either being told to or I'm voluntarily choosing to commit some time and really focus on something bigger, then I think engagement is critical at that point. Because otherwise, you can be deterred very quickly from wanting to ... maybe you change your mind. Maybe I don't really want to learn about this because I'm just not particularly interested. And that's where I think you can spend more time on thematic storytelling, certainly visual branding. That's where a lot of the creativity, I think, can come out in terms of establishing and maintaining engagement.

Robin: There's tools often used in marketing such as storytelling, metaphors, visual, show it rather than say it. It’s actually very powerful just to get over that barrier.

So we looked at two aspects of the model the triggers and motivation. With a third aspect being ability. Ability on the surface looks like what we're used to in learning, developing competency. From a behavioural aspect, does that ability look different?

Jeremy: I think it's very different in this particular frame of reference because it really is about your ability to access and engage with a learning solution, as opposed to your ability or competence at a particular task. Again, you've developed the most amazing video or eLearning that has ever existed, you've marketed it brilliantly. Everybody knows that it's there. But if it's too difficult for me to find or to get to, it doesn't matter. None of those other things matter. I'm not going to engage with it because I can't get to it. That's kind of the ability, the definition of ability in this context.

Robin: Using the Lyft example, the ease of being able to sit there and go, "Oh yeah, let's drop off at Taco Bell." Gives you the ability to be able to do that action easily.

Jeremy: That's a great point because in that same example, if the construct was then, okay I call a Lyft, the driver picks me up and he asks me if I want to go to Taco Bell. And I say, "Oh yeah, that sounds like a great idea." And he says, "Great. Look, find where the closest one is, call them, let them know we're coming." Now if I have to go do all of these other things, it's not nearly as effective. I'm not going to do it.

Robin: So it essentially it’s classic lean thinking, "How do we make this particular task or learning experience as easy as possible for someone to engage with?"

Jeremy: And I think that's why you're seeing, or one of the reasons why you're seeing this explosion in learning tech. Because the traditional LMS is pretty notoriously bad about being easy to access content. There's a scenario that I kind of, it's an exaggerated scenario that I lay out in terms of two approaches to finding the same content and going through my company's LMS might take me through as many as 10 or 12 different screens or clicks before I can actually access the content that I want. Whereas a Google search in one click, lays out for me, everything that I could possibly want in different media, videos, steps, pictures. It's all right there.

So again, it's almost like, in a competitive environment, if I have a choice, what is it that you're doing as a learning solutions professional that is going to encourage that learner to choose your solution? And again, if it is too hard to find or takes too long to get to, that's a major source of friction between you and your learner.

Robin: That idea of thinking about competitive barriers is powerful. Is there anything else you think that's important about applying the Fogg Model in learning?

Jeremy: I think it opens up again, a whole new way of thinking about what we do. We have tended to focus on behaviour change from a performance perspective and tried to build those principles into our learning solutions. Okay, how do I get them to do this X way as opposed to Y way?

This really isn't that. This certainly applies to or relates to that. This is more about, how do I get my learner to engage with my solution? And again, if you think about it like a product, then you open up all of these new worlds that you might have been closing yourself off to. In terms of an experience that you might have in your daily life of something that you, some sort of new innovation that you discover when you go into a grocery store, now becomes the seed of an idea for how you could design a more effective learning solution.

A commercial you see that gets your attention about a product now becomes an idea that says, "How can I create a marketing campaign around my solution that's similar to that, that works as a trigger for that learner?" There's just so many ways that that opens up new ways of thinking.

And honestly, I think it brings new people into the conversation, people that you wouldn't necessarily have thought about brainstorming with or talking about learning solutions to because they don't have that background. Now they have a different way into that conversation and you might find some very different results because of that.

Robin: I often talk about designing holistic learning experiences. I think this particular framework gives a nice way of thinking about the holistic experience beyond just the training bubble in the LMS.

What would be your advice to someone who's sitting there thinking, "Actually, this is a really interesting way of working. I want to start integrating this into my learning design practise." What do you think the first step would be?

Jeremy: I think the first step would be go talk to, assuming you have that organisation in your company, try to find someone in marketing to network with. And spend some time with that person trying to understand some of the principles they are using as they interact with their consumers and see how you can take that and apply that to the learning space.

And then the second thing is, I think, a version of what I just said. Look outside of your work for inspiration. We tend to really separate those things. There's a certain set of rules for how I live my life and what I do at home and the types of things I'll engage with there. And for whatever reason, we say, we just forget all of those things when it comes to work, that principle doesn't apply here. So challenge yourself to say again, "Here's something really interesting or new that has affected the way I live. How can I take that same concept or some version of it and apply it to my work?"

Robin: That’s two great bits of advice. Thank you very much for joining me on the podcast today.

Jeremy: No. Thank you, very much.