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Can eLearning Influence Behavior Change?

Transformative learning is more than memorizing steps or learning basic skills—in many cases, it’s about shifting values and beliefs to uproot old behavior patterns. Training classes that teach employees new policies and healthcare modules that try to improve patient habits are both examples of tools that are designed to incite behavior change. All Posts

 

What’s the dominant model for behavior change?

In the 1970s, researcher and psychologist James O. Prochaska began developing a conceptual model of behavior change. By the 90s, he and colleagues published a number of papers supporting their work, and the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (TTM) quickly became the prevailing model for creating healthier habits.

Prochaska’s model breaks down the process of change into discrete stages:

  • precontemplation (no plans on making change)
  • contemplation (intend to change within the next 6 months)
  • preparation (ready to make a change)
  • action (already begun taking steps to make change)
  • maintenance (made the change and are trying not to fall back into old habits)

eLearning strategies for each stage

The key to influencing positive behavior change is to understand where the learner is coming from—in other words, design strategies with their stage of change in mind. Someone who has not yet decided to quit smoking won’t be moved by the same content that a person who quit three days ago finds helpful. Motivation is key in every approach to behavior change, but how that motivation is delivered to the user varies, depending on where the individual learner is at.

Pre-contemplation: Use compelling images to disrupt old ways of thinking

Learners in this first stage have no plans to make change because they have not yet been convinced that change is necessary. Think of couch potatoes who have not yet heard that a sedentary lifestyle shortens the lifespan, or citizens who aren’t aware of the benefits of recycling. These learners aren’t going to be motivated by anything but startlingly bad news. Disrupting their habitual ways of thinking by appealing to their emotions—say, an animation highlighting the health risks of inactivity or a compelling graphic of a landfill—can move these learners from apathy to curiosity.

Contemplation: Bolster motivation with behavior modeling

With learners in the second stage, instructional designers have a twofold aim: to bolster motivation and provide tools to create a plan of action. Here, the focus turns more toward the positive—what steps can I take to effect change, now that I know it’s necessary? Behavior-modeling video is an excellent tool for learners in this stage, as it provides an exemplar of what steps the learner should take, and appeals to emotion by using real-life characters and narrative.

Preparation: Help learners set achievable goals

Learners in the preparation stage are ready to get started, but they need action-oriented tools to help set achievable goals. Reinforcing the relevance of the content while keeping the learner’s attention focused is the goal, here. Suggested tools: downloadable guides and checklists, and data fields that allow learners to input their own information to develop a customized plan.

Action: Provide self-assessment tools and feedback

The action stage is where the new behavior is already being demonstrated. But learners in this stage may benefit from a check-in to ensure they are still on the right track. Self-assessments are a great way to prompt learner reflection, personalize learning, and offer feedback on progress—all of which can be done asynchronously.

Maintenance: Cultivate a sense of relationship

In the maintenance stage, individuals have already made the necessary behavior change and incorporated it into their lives. But without continued support, many may “relapse” into old ways of thinking. Social support can buttress appropriate behavior, but sometimes this is a trick to pull off in eLearning. If you’re working without a strong instructor presence, using online forums or discussion boards can cultivate a sense of community that empowers positive change.

Overall, the ideal design for behavior change needs to be flexible, with multiple approaches to a single topic, and allow learners to select the best strategy for them, based on where they are in their willingness to make change.