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Focusing on Behaviour Change over Knowledge Acquisition

You have a topic and a stack of learning content that you are ready to transform into a course. You organise the content into chapters and use instructional design techniques to make the course engaging, educating the learner on what they need to know. When we started as instructional designers, that was our goal. Tell the learner what they need to know and engage them so they direct their attention towards learning it.

As time went by and we began to learn more about the world of learning and development and instructional design, our aim changed. We now weren’t solely focused on providing the learner with information, we wanted to encourage behaviour change. After all, learning experiences are connected to a business goal and business goals require change. Not just a change in what people know but also what people do with that new-found information to make a difference.

  • If you create a course on customer service, you want learners to not only know what good customer service is but also provide good customer service. 
  • If you create an induction, you want learners to know what they need to do to be successful.
  • If you create a health and safety course, you want learners to know what is safe practice in the workplace but also what they need to do to be safe. 
Our founder Kim, demonstrates a prime example of behaviour change from learning experiences. I often notice that she changes her behaviour in some way or form whether it is how she communicates or what she does in her daily routine. I became curious and wanted to know where this behaviour change was coming from. She expressed that everytime she learns, she picks out the parts that will add value to her life and makes the change (great idea right?). What’s the point of learning something new if you don’t put it into action? A head full of knowledge is great but if you don’t put it into action, you are unlikely to receive any value from it. The same goes for learning experiences, if you want to make a difference, behaviour needs to change.

In this blog we will share our top two tips for creating behaviour change through eLearning solutions. If you want to go more in-depth into this topic we suggest you check out Action Mapping by Cathy Moore. Action Mapping was the process that led us to shift our focus from knowledge acquisition to behaviour change. When we found the process, it was like we had found gold. We had a feeling it would have a significant impact on the success of our learning solutions and from what our clients tell us, this has been confirmed.

1. Transform learning objectives into actions

When we partner with a client, the first thing we do is gain a deep understanding of their problem. This means understanding the business goal that led to the need for the training in the first place and the learning objectives required to meet that goal.

We find that learning objectives are often not action-focused and this means that they are not measurable and may not make a difference to the overarching goal (which to us, is a problem). Many learning objectives focus on the knowledge that the learner needs, though don’t consider if that knowledge acquisition will lead to useful action. We don’t want customer service representatives to just know the ‘techniques of providing great customer service’, we want them to ‘actually provide great customer service’.

We therefore recommend working with your client to transform their learning objectives into actions. For each learning objective, consider:

What action would you see, if you knew the learning objective had been met?

Here are some example transformations:

Original Learning Objective
Action-Focused Version
Understand the Code of Conduct
Make decisions in the workplace that align with the Code of Conduct
Understand the difference between the fire extinguishers
Use each of the fire extinguishers correctly
Explain the sales process for selling laptops
Sell laptops

Focusing on actions over knowledge acquisition can change the design of your solution and is crucial if you want to create behaviour change.

2. Design for behaviour change

When you are designing your learning solution, ensure that you focus each screen and activity on actions.

Let’s say you need to take your learners through a production model. The production model could be:

Stage 1: Receive the materials.

Stage 2: Transform the materials into products using machinery.

Stage 3: Complete a quality check.

Stage 4: Products are distributed to stores.

An understanding of the above information could achieve a learning objective such as, ‘Know the stages of the production model’. Though what will the learner do with this information in the real world? What actions do they need to take to be successful? This is where you would need to make the learning action-focused. For each stage of the production model you would need to discover what specific actions the learner would need to take to be successful. As an example, let’s have a look at how this could be done for Stage 1.

Stage 1: Receive the materials

  • Unload the materials from the trucks when they arrive.
  • Put the materials in the shed at the warehouse. 
The above explains two simple actions that the learner would need to take to be successful. If they ‘do’ both of those actions, it is likely that they would be successful and make a difference in the real world.

That’s it for this blog on ‘Focusing on Behaviour Change over Knowledge Acquisition’. We hope that you gained value from the tips that we shared.

Once again, a shout out to Cathy Moore for opening up our minds to this way of thinking and enabling us to create learning solutions that make a difference in the real world. We can say first-hand that for our projects this process works and we hope that this encourages others in the industry to use it as well.

Without action, change doesn’t happen. You could have a wealth of knowledge around healthy eating and nutrition, though if you don’t eat healthy food, will you be healthy? You could know the techniques of driving a car but if you don’t get in the car and drive it, will you get from A to B? Encourage action and in turn set your clients and learners up for success in the real world.

If you are interested in this topic and would like to discuss it further, please don’t hesitate to contact our passionate founder Kim Tuohy via or by connecting with her on LinkedIn. 

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Grab the freebies such as the exact storyboard template we use, as well as case studies on how to create an induction and branching scenarios. There are paid templates to support you with writing a contract, quoting, managing a project and writing proposals. 💙💜

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