B. J. Fogg is the director of Stanford University's Behavior Design Lab, and one of his most recent theories to catch the attention of educators and change management people alike is oriented around the concept of "tiny habits."
B. J. is certainly no stranger to the e-Learning scene. I can vouch for that via personal experience: in the mid-noughties I worked directly with B. J. and a small team of developers to create a customised version of something called 'YackPack' -- an innovative platform for online spoken communication -- which I successfully implemented across a range of private institutes in South Korea (and, in the process, launching first-of-its-kind online speaking tools in that context -- one of my perhaps less feeble claims to fame :-) It was phenomenally successful as a learning and communication tool for ESL speaking and writing, with both synchronous and asynchronous applications, and incorporating a lot of B. J.'s research findings (a very visual circular space where all the learners were depicted with icons, with learners able to customise the layout of that space, and the deliberate avoidance of live video, which B. J.'s research had indicated was more of a put off than a positive--for a variety of reasons).
I'm not sure what became of YackPack, but it's good to see B. J. has certainly been forging on with more innovative research and practical solutions emerging from the marriage of educational theory with psychology.
Over at the Learning Solutions Magazine, you can see an interview with B. J. on Tiny Habits and Learning, a tidy/targeted follow up to the longer keynote he delivered at mLearnCon 2012. It's well worth watching and thinking about when it comes to E-learning Design principles and practice.
Here, in a nutshell, is what I think is most useful/fruitful to take away from B. J.'s Tiny Habits concept:
- Behaviour change is facilitated more than it is motivated
- Big change becomes more feasible with moments of higher motivation; smaller changes are better facilitated by adding something small/simple/easy to already existing behaviours
- Tiny habits, attached to existing or instinctive behaviours, can be progressively extended and linked to create powerful changes in behaviour
I think many good educators out there already do this, at least to some extent, and the "tiny habits" concept will make perfect sense to them. For others, who bemoan lack of motivation in learners and/or the crash and burn failures following attempts to create major changes in learning behaviour, the concept perhaps provides both something close to an explanation and a potential road map for finding practical solutions.
For example, one thing I see many educators lament is a relative inability or unwillingness in their learners to engage in critical thinking as they go about their education. Critical thinking could be thought of as a behaviour, or (more usefully, in my opinion) the result of a variety of other relatively smaller behaviours.
Last year I presented the notion of DIPA(CT) and, to some degree at least, it makes use of this addition of "tiny habits" to regular pre-existing behaviours as part of a regular learning sequence. By adding a simple prediction stage and a follow up critical thinking (Why is this useful? Why should we learn it? How will this help me?) stage as wrapping for the more regular/familiar Instruction phase, hopefully we are adding the sorts of small behaviours that can become tiny habits over time and facilitate more in the way of instinctive prediction and critical thinking for any basic learning experience.
Another example I can think of is the behaviour of learners following text or video input, which is often to assume "that's done, then" and look for the NEXT button.
A "tiny habit" addition here might be to provide a space at the bottom of the slide for the learners to jot down at least 1-3 things they didn't know before but now do; the software treats this as a text variable which is collated and gathered at the end of the section or overall e-Learning activity, presenting a useful summary or list of learning notes. Another may be to have a small slot to relate the content/knowledge to their specific work roles in some way. In both cases, we are mapping new relatively simple behaviours onto an existing one (observing content), and hopefully replacing the potentially inhibiting habit of just dismissing content and looking to move on.
In a drafting/drawing course I am providing instructional design assistance for, the usual habit for learners is to take their finished drawings to a particular area of the classroom and file them with other finished work. A tiny habit we are seeking to add is a quick photograph of the completed work using their mobile phones, forwarded on to their institute email accounts. With these photographs, we can progressively build a visual e-Portfolio of their drafting work using the Mahara plug-in they have access to alongside their regular Moodle courses.
In my area of expertise (Literacy), there are all sorts of positive habits I am looking to facilitate with the learners -- everything from basic punctuation checks to spelling or tidy paragraph formation. It's worth thinking about how I can design these in the "tiny habits" mold and have them attached to the regular existing (instinctive) behaviours.
Beyond the tiny habits, however, I think B. J.'s point about big/important changes being most amenable to certain times/situations (where motivation is potentially high enough to handle or facilitate major change) is also important from an E-learning context. Rather than just mapping out activities in a linear fashion from unit 1 to unit 10, to be taken sequentially, a flexible framework of activities that map on to specific experiences strikes me as having more potential resonance for learners.
For learners in my current context, this means that:
- They reflect and write about work experiences immediately following their work placements
- They investigate and think critically about OHS following a "near miss" in the workshop
- They look at the role of unions and workers' rights following a breaking news item about an industrial dispute
- They write a procedural guide on how to use a machine before using and/or having very recently just used that machine
- They document directions on how to complete work placement books in response to a screencast guide immediately before (or relatively close to the time) they are due to go out on their first structured workplace learning placement
In other words, the learning units are in a flexible sequence, able to be applied when the contextual relevance (and therefore, hopefully motivatation to engage and apply) is at its peak. This can be one or both of preparation for or following up from actual work-related activities or priorities.
Taken together, the ideas of strategic application of big/heavy learning endeavours and tiny habit add ons to regular behaviours genuinely appeal to me as effective design considerations for any program.
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