Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Nudge learning

Things move fast in organisations and when Standard Life merged with Aberdeen Asset Management, an agile learning approach to changing behaviour in the new organisation was implemented, a training intervention that is itself agile and resulted in actual behavioural change. A huge traditional course, whether face-to-face or online, based on a diet of knowledge would have been counterproductive in this fast moving, post-merger commercial environment and be seen as a bit old-school and non-agile. Whereas a series of short, sharp interventions that nudge people into applying agile in their own context and work environment was likely to work better. At least, that's what Peter Yarrow, Head of Learning, thought – and I think he's right. It was his brainchild.
His successful project used the 'nudge' technique. Nudge theory recommends small interventions to push people into changing behaviour. Famous examples include the image of a fly in men’s urinals, to improve aim and reduce cleaning costs! Opting out, rather than into organ donation is another. The psychological theory is laid out in the book 'Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness’ by Thaler and Sunstein. They could well have added ‘Learning’ to the title.

Nudge solution
In learning, Standard Life Aberdeen sent small, professionally shot videos (on average 1min 30secs long), mainly talking heads from leaders and experts in the organisation, out via email. In addition to the video, there was a ‘challenge’ to apply the lesson in their own working environment. I like this approach, and it is a truly fresh and agile 'nudge'intervention.In their case it was general management techniques but I feel that agile techniques could be applied in response to all sorts of needs. Each starts with a proposition, or problem, followed by a suggested solution and finally, and crucially, a call to action. This is based on techniques also used in web and online design.

Example 1
Video on importance of comms
It’s hard to be a high performing team if colleagues don’t know each other well. Without trust, mutual respect and goodwill, performance will most likely remain middle of the road. Exceptional performance is fuelled by positive working relationships. Take this week’s challenge to get to know your colleagues better.

Example 2
Video on mentoring
Being mentored is a great way to develop and progress. But how do you get started? Begin by identifying someone you trust who has taken a career path you aspire to. Take this week’s challenge to learn more about making mentoring relation ships work.
These videos and challenges were sent out by email and usage tracked. The take-up across the organisation surprised the training department and the feedback was very positive. People felt that it was integrated into their natural workflow (they were not too long and intrusive) and that it was made more relevant by virtue of nudging people towards action by them as individuals in their specific job.

Suggestions for nudge learning
Great start but rather than batch emails, I'd use an algorithm to decide personal needs and, take data from usage and get more precise in timing and targeting. This means harvesting more data, which one can do, even with internal email systems. People get habituated out of responding if they get too many emails.
On the challenges I’d use more of a pure marketing approach, a strong command verb at the start, really concise, with reason and emotional pull. Give your audience a reason why they should take the desired action, maybe a bit of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), maybe some compelling numbers. Writing calls to action is both a science and an art and it’s worth being a little creative.
I'd also do slightly more than just state the challenge. I'd get the user to do something there and then to make sure they got the main points in the video (we've done this by grabbing the transcript and getting the user to check they've understood the main points) using AI generated, open-input experiences with WildFire.
None of this is a criticism of Peter’s pioneering project, merely suggestions to make it more potent.

I really liked Peter’s fresh thinking around the ‘nudge’ thing. It has legs and could go in all sorts of directions. It is the combination of proven marketing techniques with learning that make this approach fly. Few in marketing want to slab out hours and hours of content – they think first audience, second channels and third action. Their whole way of thinking is around ‘less is more’. This also happens to be exactly what the psychology of learning tells us about learning experiences. The limits of working memory, cognitive overload, forgetting and the need for transfer mean doing less but doing it better. 

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