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How Can I Make Learning More Popular?

Bob Little 

April 6, 2018

In last week’s blog, we discussed the constant challenge that L&D professionals face. It’s this: how do you influence people to learn, via whatever medium is available?

You can appeal to potential learners’ common sense, but this will likely have mixed results, at best. A better way is to use the “framing” effect – that is, to change the way that your learners perceive their choices. This, in turn, can change their behavior and encourage them to sign up for your learning materials.

Behavior Change

Research by public policy makers into influencing behavior has identified tools that can lead to simple, low-cost ways to “nudge” people into acting in new ways. According to Paul Dolan, one of the authors of the MINDSPACE report, “If we change the way people think about and reflect upon things, then we can change their behavior.”

Dolan adds that we can also seek to adjust people’s behavior by changing their contextual cues. He explains, “If we change the ‘choice architecture,’ we can change their behavior. It turns out that behavior is more ‘automatic’ and less ‘reflective’ than we’ve previously thought.

“We’ve gathered up many of the robust effects on behavior that operate largely, though not exclusively, on the ‘automatic’ self. And we’ve expressed them under the mnemonic, MINDSPACE.”


The MINDSPACE model identifies nine key factors that can affect behavior change:

  • Messenger – we’re influenced by who communicates information.
  • Incentives – our responses to incentives are shaped by predictable mental shortcuts, such as avoiding losses.
  • Norms – we’re influenced by what others do.
  • Defaults – we “go with the flow” of preset options.
  • Salience – we notice what’s novel and seems relevant to us.
  • Priming – our acts are influenced by subconscious cues.
  • Affect – our emotional associations shape our actions.
  • Commitments – we seek to be consistent with our public promises, and to reciprocate acts.
  • Ego – we act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves.

Both MINDSPACE (developed in 2010) and its derivative, EAST (2012), offer useful insights into how we can guide people toward learning. You can also apply these insights when you’re considering whether – or to what extent – behavior change interventions are appropriate.

The EAST Framework

The EAST framework states that, to change behavior, any intervention must be:

  • Easy. How easy is it for people to engage in the desired activity?
  • Attractive. How attractive is it for people to do it?
  • Social. What are the social implications?
  • Timely. When is the right time for people to do it?

L&D professionals should view this framework in the context of the 10-stage customer (learner) experience journey:

1. Unaware. Learners are merely potential learners. They don’t know about your learning materials.

2. Aware. The potential learners know about the learning materials via various channels – but that’s as far as it goes.

3. Research. To fulfill a need, the potential learners do their research to find out more.

4. Consideration. Further research takes place, comparing your offering against others.

5. Selection. Edging closer to conversion, the potential learners narrow down options based on criteria such as convenience, price and delivery technologies.

6. Transaction. Your offer comes out on top, and the customer converts.

7. Lead time. The time it takes for your learner to receive the learning materials.

8. Use. How your learners use or engage with the learning materials. Now they have firsthand experience of your materials, the next step is for them to share this information.

9. Advocacy. Your learners become your marketing channel, sharing their experience or knowledge of your learning materials with their colleagues.

10. Loyalty. Your learners provide lifetime value to your learning materials via repeat purchases, engagement and interactions.

Learner Experience Mapping

Before you can apply the EAST framework to marketing your learning materials, you must understand your customer journey, and any challenges that your learners face on the path to conversion. So:

1. Carry out customer experience research.

2. Identify the challenges that people face, so that you can eliminate guesswork on your part.

3. List the behaviors, or outcomes, that you want to change. Ask yourself what you want your customers to do.

4. Decide how your learners are going to be measured, so that you know how effective your activity has been.

5. Decide on activities that will change learners’ behaviors. In behavioral terms, these are known as “interventions” – or your “solutions.”

6. For each of these activities, list what’s needed from the EAST principles:

  • How easy is it for learners to do what you’d like them to do?
  • How attractive is it for them to do it?
  • What are the social implications?
  • When is the right time for learners to do it?

7. Test and learn. Implement your activity, and if it is less effective than you expected, adapt it accordingly. This helps you to avoid wasting time and budget.

Learner experience journey mapping enables you to uncover your learners’ touchpoints, and to identify their motivations, behaviors and challenges. It paints a true picture of your overall audience. Armed with this insight, you can apply the EAST framework.

The Power of Defaults

Ollie Craddock, deputy CEO of Mind Tools, endorses this approach toward behavior change. “To encourage a behavior among your potential learner audience, make it easy, attractive, social and timely,” he says.

“Decisions requiring minimal effort are more likely to be chosen. So, harness the power of defaults to encourage the desired action to be selected – and to reduce the hassle factor in taking up your learning materials.

“And make the learning materials attractive – maybe using striking colors and professional imagery.

“We’re social beings. We care about what our peers are doing, and what they think of us. So, show potential learners that most people perform the desired behavior, and use the power of networks to encourage peer pressure to get learners to sign up for, and complete, the learning materials.

“Prompt people when they’re most likely to be receptive,” Craddock adds. “Behavior is easier to change when habits are already disrupted. Moreover, help learners to plan their response to events. Identify the barriers to action and develop a plan to address them.”

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2 comments on “How Can I Make Learning More Popular?”:

  1. Francisco "Fungus" Laborde wrote:

    Looks great.
    Risk: Some people may use this toolset to manipulate others and restrict thinking freedom. Powerful tools should be always used to help people be free.

  2. Michael Ranft wrote:

    The most important point to learning is making it relevant. I have been finding myself faced by individuals that don’t seem to share any interest in the themes presented. Now this can effect how others buy in, too. Creating a atmosphere of indifference will encourage others to save their energy and lean back.

    I then turned the card and asked them to describe their current situation and challenges (inbound customer calls) and the sleepy folk jumped into action. We then summed up their constraints and turn back to outbound scenario and what is seen as transferable.

    Learning needs to enable a level of self-direction and engage with the group even if they drift far apart. Using activities, buddying systems and self-reflection including a good bit of work hygiene can make a positive twist on learners development.

    also a use of common learning strategies and approaches