Structuring eLearning for Behaviour Change

In eLearning Content, eLearning Design, Instructional Design by Fran.Heathorn

How do we best structure eLearning to facilitate and support desired behaviour change? Many clients come to us thinking that things will improve when everybody knows what they need to know. In our experience, however, training is more effective when we consider what people need to do. And then think about why they are not currently doing it. 

The environment can have a big influence on behaviour. So before jumping to the conclusion that a training course is even necessary, try adjusting the environment. For example, make a form easier to fill out; make the software easier to use; signpost the desired procedure at the point of need. If people still are not doing what you need them to do, then training might be the answer.  

But, before focusing your attention on the content you are going to deliver, you first need to identify who exactly are the people that need this training. It might not be who you think at first, but that is a topic for another post. 

The Theory 

Here at Cobblestone, we have taken inspiration from psychology theory to develop the ideal eLearning course design for achieving behavioural change. We have studied the Stages of Change Model and incorporated it into our learning design. This model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was developed by James O. Prochaska of the University of Rhode Island and Carlo Di Clemente in the 1970s.  

The basic idea is that behavioural change does not happen in just one step, it happens in several, and these are:  

  • Pre-contemplation 
  • Contemplation 
  • Preparation 
  • Action 
  • Maintenance.  

People tend to naturally progress through these specific stages on their way to change. 

Since people tend to move at a different pace, we believe that an ordered programme of micro-courses would be the most effective approach. So, each module of the training course would include a series of learning experiences devoted to one step. They would support learners at each stage of the change process by exposing them to the materials when they are most ready and receptive to them. 

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Stages of Behavioural Change 

Step 1 – Pre-contemplation, or ‘What’s the Problem?’ 

This is the first stage. People are not yet acknowledging that there is a problematic behaviour, or that anything needs to be changed. People in this stage may be defensive in the face of other people’s efforts to pressure them to stop or alter their behaviour. Denial or ignorance of the problem characterises this phase. 

We commonly address this by kicking off with a programme trailer. This could be a poster, a video or an animation that alerts people to the issue and introduces the topic before the ‘course’ is released. It floats the idea that things need to change.  

Then, you can include a reflection activity by asking the learners if they have noticed this behaviour in others or behaved in this way themselves. A good way to highlight the risks of the current behaviour is by telling a story of someone in the position of the learner, describing their current behaviour and identifying the hazards of the situation. This could be in the form of a made-up scenario, or an actual case study. 

Step 2 – Contemplation, or ‘Oh. Maybe So.’ 

This is the second stage, characterised by ambivalence and conflicted emotions. Learners are starting to admit that there may be an issue, but they are still reluctant to change behaviours. 

Firstly, enable them to weigh the pros and cons of the behaviour with a sorting activity. Their conflicted emotions might be down to fear that they cannot overcome certain barriers. So secondly, identify a common barrier and offer various solutions or coping strategies. 

Finally, confirm their readiness and ability to change. Ask them to make or agree to a positive statement of intent. 

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Step 3 – Preparation, or ‘OK. What’s the Plan?’ 

At this point, learners are on board with the overall goal and might start experimenting with small changes. They might start gathering information about the change. So, in the course, we could support this by listing specific actions and asking the learners to select the ones they want to focus on. We could branch to different plans, depending on what actions they have selected. These would outline the required steps towards the change. 

To keep up the momentum at this point, you could include a statement from someone who has made the change and feels better or find a quote from someone who has benefited from someone else making the change. Include an expert practitioner insight or a did you know? – this could be an expert opinion or a statistic from a reputable study or source. 

Step 4 – Action, or ‘Right. Let’s do This!’ 

During the 4th stage of change, people begin taking direct action to accomplish the goal. People will have had an opportunity to try out the new behaviour in the workplace. At Cobblestone, we can support that electronically in the form of practice scenarios with gamified rewards or enable peer support via social polls or message boards on your learning management system. 

Step 5 – Maintenance, or ‘Oh Yeah, I Forgot.’ 

In this step, people are most vulnerable to abandoning their attempts to change. Momentum is lost and people may revert to their previous behaviour, especially if they have not given the first three steps enough thought or time. Therefore, it is important to reward learners at this point by acknowledging when the correct behaviour is exhibited in the real world. We can help you to think of ways to do this for your situation.  

Another useful device is to offer coping strategies to avoid the temptation to relapse. Some ways to do this could include a refresher course or spaced email campaign. This helps keep the topic alive for learners long enough for the new habit to become ingrained and normal. Best of all, show them the results. If their efforts are achieving the goal, let them know! 

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Change is demanding and uncomfortable. Even when behaviours are unproductive, ineffective, or destructive, maintaining the status quo can still feel easier than doing something different. 

We hope that these tips for building your next eLearning programme will facilitate and support your people in achieving their goals, by helping them to do something different. 

If you would like to use this evidence-based approach for a behavioural change training need where you work, watch this space! We will soon be revealing a tool where you can input your content directly into this tried and tested format. Get in touch with us for a sneak preview if you can’t wait for the big reveal!