Designing Learning for the Lazy

Dec 05, 2017

We don’t like to think of ourselves as lazy. So obviously I’m talking about other people here. You know, the ones who aren’t curious to learn new stuff or change what they’re doing, even if it’s not working out that great. In other words, most people, most of the time, and most especially the ones we are asked to make learning for every day.

We can try and pump them up, we can shame, we can blame, and we may win some of them over for a little bit. But not all of them, and not for long. Fortunately, we don’t need to change their behavioral state, we only need to change their actual behaviorWe can choose to adapt to the learner’s very predictably lazy ways.

“Designing for laziness is something we all need to do if we’re serious about behavioral change… You can’t explain it rationally, it’s just how we are.
– BJ Fogg, Persuasive Technology Lab, Stanford University

Let’s assume that the navigational habits of our learners do not change much whether they are buying something or learning something. Now we get to leverage the mountains of research about online purchasing navigation behavior and apply it to learning navigation behavior.

Take Me To Your Learning…

Why does it ever take more than one click to get directly into learning from anywhere else? Why do we ask our learners to go into an LMS first, then search for the course on their transcript (or anywhere else in the system), then click on it, then click to launch it, then click to get past the welcome page and to the actual content. Your learner may have more clicks than this to get to their desired learning, but in all my years of consulting, I’ve never seen anyone give them less. Have you?

Know why Apple paid millions to license Amazon’s patented “1-click” ordering? Because it’s worth exponentially MORE than that in terms of iTunes sales. Studies show, CLICKS = DROPOFF. Yeah, learners could go do the clicky-dance to answer that question, but…most of the time they’d rather be lazy.

The Course Hammer

Clicks ≠ Learning. Just because learners click “next” does not mean there is interactivity going on. These clicks have zero learning value. Such clicks really aren’t for your learners at all, they’re just so you can be lazy and design fast with a template. The more rapid we are with our rapid development, the more this tends to happen. But we want to design for lazy learners, not lazy us’s. 

Lazy us’s in deadline-driven projects fall into the “I can make a course for that!” trap, and we mistake our templates for the only tools in our toolbox.

“If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”
– Abraham Maslow 

Before you create any asset, backup a sec and ask “What is the business problem to be addressed?” It might be that a new system is launching and people need to know how to use it. Nope, hold on, wait — lazy people, remember? They don’t actually need to know about any features in the new system. What they REALLY need to know is how to do the job they’re already doing just as good (or better!) when everything looks totally different and works totally different. Until they know how to maintain/improve current performance in under new conditions, you’ll have fight the lazy out of ’em every step of the way. Once they know how to be lazy, then you can show them how to be even more lazy with the new features that further improve performance…and they’ll thank you for it. See how that works?

And if you want some extra bonus anti-hammer points, you can also ask “How is this being measured already?” Chances are you don’t need to invent a new metric for your learning. If a project landed on your desk, someone somewhere is measuring something already, trust me. Best to find out who they are, and talk to them about what their metric is now, before you go making something that doesn’t affect that all-important-measurement-nobody-ever-told-you-existed-in-the-first-place. Such conversations will illuminate most (if not all) of the test questions, and help you keep your SMEs in check too.

Too Many Things!

We like to think we can teach people what we’ve been told that they need. It feels good to say that our learners will dutifully absorb a mountain of material and behave in new and appropriate ways with that knowledge. But they don’t do this, do they?

Okay, some do. But most are lazy. They pay attention just enough to pass the assessment (if there is one) and promptly go back to what they were doing before. And then complain loudly if anything gets in their way, let’s not forget. Any exception to this behavior is cause for suspicion, and — only once verified — celebration!

“It is a reality of human nature…people wantto be ambitious, they want to take on really big things. This despite the fact that it’s never really worked for them.
– BJ Fogg, Persuasive Technology Lab, Stanford University

Give your learning less to do, and you give your learners less to do. How many learning objectives to you really need? The template may have room for 3-7, but oftentimes you really just need one. If it’s the right one, have the courage to call it enough. Don’t let others dilute its purity with periphery clutter that merely serves to ensure your learner will never, ever remember it. It is not your job to crank out learning widgets, it is your job to help the business run better by changing the behavior of your learners.

In my experience, this usually means subtracting stuff instead of adding it. Make the thing you want people to do obviously easier than any other option, and that’s generally what they’ll do. If not, they’re probably trying to solve a problem that no one thought they’d ever run into and thus forgot to design for. The resulting actions might look odd or complicated, but people are still genuinely doing the laziest thing they can most easily find. Let’s learn to use this.

Laziness is not a problem…unless we are too lazy to design for it!

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