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How to make sure Behaviour Change Sticks

Do you want your learners to adopt new behaviours that stand the test of time? Well, the concept of extinction could hold the answers.

What do you associate with the word ‘extinction’? Potentially the disappearance of the dinosaurs? 🦕

In psychology, extinction has a similar but different meaning and it can help you improve your learning solutions. Dinosaurs and better learning solutions, an epic combination, right? 😉

“In psychology, extinction refers to the gradual weakening of a conditioned response that results in the behavior decreasing or disappearing. In other words, the conditioned behavior eventually stops.” (Cherry, 2019).

For example, let us say that you feed your dog a treat every time they sit on cue.

Shoutout to our team member Mabilli for role modelling for this blog. ☝🏼

Your dog will associate sitting with receiving a treat. They will develop a conditioned response to sit and then receive a treat. If you stopped giving your dog the treat in response to them sitting, they may still obtain the conditioned response for a period of time. Over time this conditioned response may fade and they will no longer associate sitting with receiving a treat. The sitting behaviour may therefore become extinct as there is no reward.

Think about the learning solutions that you create. Your goal is to change the behaviour of your learner and in turn meet your project goal, right?

What do you do to condition a new response or behaviour in your learners? 

  • Do they receive a reward or punishment? 🥇
  • Do you tell them what to do and hope for the best? 🤞🏼
To condition a new response or behaviour, we recommend the following strategies.

1. Show learners how changing their behaviour will improve their life

A dog receives a treat in order to change their behaviour. What treat will your learner receive? Potentially it is less stress, the ability to do their job better, to impress their supervisor, to better serve their customer or to spend less time on a task.

✍🏼 Practical action: Show the learner how changing their behaviour will positively impact their life. You can use human-centred design activities to discover the positive impact it will have. For example, through conducting user interviews to better understand learner goals and motivations.

Watch our ‘Human-centred Design for Instructional Designers’ playlist to discover the activities you can use to achieve this (Belvista Studios, 2020a).

2. Encourage supervisor support

If your learner is rewarded by their supervisor for changing their behaviour, it is more likely that they will develop a conditioned response. The reward does not have to be extravagant. A simple one liner of feedback like, “Great job on that”, could make all the difference. 

✍🏼 Practical action: Gain buy-in from the supervisors of your learners and encourage them to praise their staff when they adopt the new behaviour. The new behaviour should also make the supervisors’ life easier and this should result in the motivation to encourage their staff.

Once a new behaviour is conditioned and the project goal is met (yahoo!), it is common for us to move onto the next thing. Problem solved, next! 👉🏼

What about the sustainability of the behaviour change? Is it at risk of extinction? Like the dinosaurs, will the new behaviours eventually disappear off the face of the earth? Well, if we look at the psychological concept of extinction, if there is no ongoing reward or punishment, this is very likely.

So, how can you avoid the new behaviours that you trained from becoming extinct?

1. Ensure that the new behaviour adds value to the learners’ lives

The new behaviour does need to have a positive impact on the learner’s life in some way or form or they will not sustain it.

Imagine someone telling you to take a different route to work and every time you take it, it takes longer. You will not continue taking that route, will you? No because it does not add value to your life. The same goes for learning solutions. If the new behaviour that you are training does not add value to your learners’ lives, they will not sustain it.

✍🏼 Practical action: To ensure that the new behaviours are adding value to your learners’ lives, conduct user testing (Belvista Studios, 2020b) with them. This will provide you with insight into whether it will add value to their lives and in turn change their behaviour, prior to launching the solution. After your solution is released, conduct user interviews (Belvista Studios, 2020c) or user observations (Belvista Studios, 2020d) with your learners to discover if they have adopted the new behaviour and why/why not.

2. Encourage supervisor check-ins

Supervisors play a crucial role in their teams’ development and work performance. They should be encouraging and steering their team towards the organisational objectives (and your learning solution should be aligned to the organisational objectives).

✍🏼 Practical action: Encourage supervisors to check-in with their staff on how the new behaviour is going. This could be included in regular catch-ups with a focus on:

  • What is working?
  • What is not working?
  • How can improvements be made?
That is it for this blog. We hope that it adds value to you and enables you to create learning solutions that create sustainable behaviour change. For tools and resources related to this topic, check out our creator hub.

If you have any other tips for how to stop learnt behaviours from becoming extinct, we would love to hear about it. Comment below. 👇🏼

If you would like to discuss sustainable learning in further detail please do not hesitate to contact our passionate founder Kim via or by connecting with her on LinkedIn.


Belvista Studios. (2020a). Human-centred Design for Instructional Designers [Youtube channel]. Retrieved from

Belvista Studios. (2020b). How to Conduct User Testing | How to Become an Instructional Designer [Video]. Retrieved from

Belvista Studios. (2020c). How to Conduct User Interviews | How to Become an Instructional Designer [Video]. Retrieved from

Belvista Studios. (2020d). How to Conduct User Observations | How to Become an Instructional Designer [Video]. Retrieved from

Cherry, K. (2019). How Extinction Is Defined in Psychology. Retrieved from

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