I’ve been on the road a lot lately, making frequent trips out of state to visit family. These long multi-hour drives can get boring but thank goodness for podcasts. One of my favorite podcasts is Freakonomics. The reason I love Freakonomics so much is that they often take the most pedestrian topic and make it interesting. A recent episode, titled How Goes the Behavior-Change Revolution? (Ep. 382) was quite interesting and featured some of the brightest minds in psychology to explore humans and behavior change. No matter what your occupation, you have to deal with people in some capacity. Here are two takeaways I had from recent research and how you can apply it to learning and development.
Making the simple too complex
No bones about it, Laurie Santos loves dogs. Santos says dogs are like humans because we have socialized them to be like us. Let’s explore her study, Dogs do not demonstrate a human-like bias to defer to communicative cues. Here’s what she had to say:
But imagine I give you a really easy puzzle box, just a completely transparent box. Nothing on it. It just had a door that you could open to get food out. But you watch me do all these crazy steps, I tap on the side, I spin it around a few times, I do all these things. You might hope that humans are smart enough to say, “That was a really dumb way to open the box. Give it to me, I’m going to open the door.”
But it turns out that’s not what humans do. Humans will follow slavishly all these dumb steps that they see someone else do, just in case. And we thought the same dumb copying behaviors that we see humans do, we should probably see in dogs as well.
Here’s how we set it up. We made a dog-friendly puzzle box, easy enough for the dogs to understand. So it was a transparent box with a lid that was really obvious, and if you flip the lid up you could get inside and get a piece of food. But we added this extraneous lever on the side of the box, and we showed dogs, “Hey here’s how you open it.” You have to move the lever back and forth, it takes a really long time, lever, lever, lever, lever, and then at that point you can open the box. Now in theory if we did this with a human they would say, “I don’t really understand.” Then lever, lever, lever, lever, lever, lever, open the box. That’s actually what humans four-year-olds do, there’s some wonderful videos online where you can see this. And what do the dogs do? Ran over, lifted the lid, and got the food. What this is telling us is that we’ve created this species that learns from us a ton. They follow our cues all the time. But they’re actually smarter at learning from us than we are at learning from ourselves."
What Does This Mean for Us in Learning and Development?
How often have you evaluated your own department’s processes and “tribal knowledge”? Do you go through all these complicated steps in order to build a learning product? Do you assume everything is supposed to be an eLearning?
It’s easy to fall into these pitfalls, especially when you are new or have a “Sarge in charge” kind of manager or culture that doesn’t embrace innovation. Yes those managers and workplaces are out there so if you don’t work in one of these situations, count your blessings. How can you check to see that the way you manage your projects is effective? How do you know your process is right? The answer is experimentation. Try something new, measure the effectiveness, and learn and grow.
Taruna Goel shared this gem on Twitter about the importance of *gasp* focusing on the end user. If we create clunkly learning products that are cumbersome for the end user, we are part of the problem. To do clean and simple correctly IS difficult for a reason, we WANT to overcomplicate things. Resist the tempatation!
The Opposite of Nudge is Sludge
Richard Thaler defines a nudge as some small — possibly small — feature of the environment that influences our choices but still allows us to do anything we want.” That’s easy enough to understand, so what is sludge? Here is how he explained it:
What Does This Mean for us in Learning and Development?
Sometimes I feel like we are sludge factories. We create all of these learning products but then hide them behind systems where you have to log in via two-factor authetnications. Or we create things that aren’t optimized for tablets and phones. Or we make people contact us for a certificate of completion (this too still happens)! Mike Taylor asked during one of his keynotes hw many people log into their LMS daily to see what new offerings there are. In a room full of learning and development professionals, not a single hand raised.
Regardless of how you got into this profession, I know and you know you did it for the nudge and not the sludge. You enjoy seeing someone win at work, you enjoy seeing the “lightbulbs” pop up above folk’s heads, you just enjoy being part of helping people do their jobs better and grow. Sludge doesn’t do this. Sludge is why so many people hate eLearning, presentations, all of it. Fight the sludge, advocate for the end users!
So what about you? Do you listen to podcasts outside of L&D that provide some food for thought? Share them in the comments below. Also if you’d like to listen to this full episode (which I highly recommend), you can find it here: