Behavioural science principles: cut it out

Published by Callie Massey on

Behavioural science principles: cut it out

Table of contents

Cut it out

In our lightning-speed world, where time poverty competes with our ever-increasing appetite for knowledge – how are you doing?

Personally speaking, I often feel like I’m drinking from a fire hose. A spark of curiosity, few Google searches later, and before I know it, I’ve got access to information that was once the preserve of a PHD student. And this deluge of data only leads to a greater sense of frustration than I had in the first place; the overwhelm is real.   

What’s more – paradoxically – it would seem we can blame the narrowing of our collective attention span on this overdose of content. The more we have to concentrate on, the less we can do it; the better we are at finding answers, the fewer we can land on. This begs TS Eliot’s question: “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

Even the preparation of this blog post took me down rabbit holes of related – albeit slightly off-topic – content; I kept finding myself refocusing my attention on the task in hand. “Wouldn’t it be lovely”, I pondered, “If someone could just remove anything that wasn’t strictly relevant. That way, my meandering mind could get the job done.” Cue aha moment: as a learning designer, this is actually a crucial part of my daily role.

It’s cool to cut it out

It’s not just learning designers who’ve made information distillation their business. In 2012, the cool kids behind Blinkist soon cottoned on and cashed in. The app was based on the brainwave of a student who realised that by sharing his notes on non-fiction titles he’d read himself, he could enable others to ‘read’ more books in less time. $35 million dollars later, and Blinkist’s 21 million users are spending just 15 minutes a time getting the gist of their books of choice.

This goes to show the increasing expectations people have of their content: to deliver the information they need on their terms. And why should eLearning be any different? Given the busy-ness of people’s lives, it’s understandable that they want to avoid any kind of infodump – and it’s quite possible that previous eLearning experiences have provided exactly that. Besides, how much of that has stuck, and what needed to stick in the first place?

Cut it out the BAD way

Here at BAD, we aim to create engaging learning experiences that trigger enduring behaviour change. And one way we do this is by taking a ‘need-to-know’ approach, omitting anything that’s not essential in supporting people to carry out new actions. Why? Because we know that if we add too much information and complexity, people seek a simpler understanding and their performance suffers (Alter & Oppenheimer, 2006).

A sophisticated, streamlined solution requires groundwork upfront. That’s why we collaborate very closely with our clients in the initial stages of a project, constantly challenging any misconceptions that ‘more is more’. We drill down into the behaviours they want to see, then design our content around what people need to help them achieve that – and nothing else.

BAD learning design is heavily influenced by the COM-B model, a foundational element of which is Capability – which, when combined with Opportunity and Motivation, is a key catalyst for behaviour change. In other words, without the appropriate level of know-how, having the chance or desire to do something just won’t cut it! By ‘Cutting it out’, we lighten a learner’s cognitive load, and therefore support them to assimilate the foundational knowledge they need. This is especially pertinent if the content is complex, when learners tend to rely more heavily on making associations between the new information and what they already know – which, ultimately, might lead to them jumping to the wrong, biased conclusions.

How we’ve cut it out for our clients.

A leading global consultancy wanted their people to take a more consistent approach to client engagements by using their centralised bank of supporting tools. Previous (unsuccessful) eLearning attempted to unpack the intricate details of these tools and the processes involved – without showcasing their high-level wins in practical terms. We took a very different approach. First, we spoke to the hearts and minds of learners, by challenging their misconceptions about the complexity of the tools, and calling out their key benefits. Then – through a series of contextualised interactive scenarios – we demonstrated how people with this insight had used the tools to their advantage.

When an international bank needed help with their module on unconscious bias, we could immediately see where their existing training was falling short. Instead of presenting the content from a theoretical, academic viewpoint, we stripped out any unnecessary terminology and focused on the tangible, real-world impact of biases, including the practical measures people can take in relation to their own behaviours.

Other ways we cut it out

Along with cutting out irrelevant content, here are some other measures we take to keep our learning experiences slick, succinct and impactful.  

  • Cut out jargon. “If you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it.” This remains some of the best content-writing advice I’ve received. Instead of drifting into corporate speak, we prefer to keep it simple and draw on people’s emotions to drive engagement.
  • Cut out abstract concepts. Authentic, relatable stories delivered by credible messengers are much more effective in getting your point across.
  • Cut out any other noise. While it can be tempting to pepper a module with links, we are constantly mindful that less is more, and avoid including anything that pulls the learner’s attention away from the task in hand. Instead, we stick to giving them what they need, when they need it .

If you’d like to talk about how to cut out content that doesn’t add impact to your learning, or any other elements of our behavioural science mantra, please get in touch.

Related stories

Changing behaviour

Time to change… 

Why do we behave the way we do? It can be hard to change our less desirable behaviours when they are highly ingrained and have become habits we perform automatically without thinking.

digital user experience conceptual image
Best Practice

The inaccessibility of dark patterns

Even if you haven’t heard the phrase Dark Patterns, the chances are you’ve almost certainly come across them — both online and in the physical world.