I have similar feelings when (1) I have to admit that I have limited knowledge even in my area of practice, i.e. people and leadership development, but (2) when I would like to share with someone what we teach, why and how, I need to start from the very beginning and it needs detailed explanation. Therefore, that limited knowledge seems to be quite a lot.
It often happens that new acquaintances enquire about what I do for living. Leadership training is rather easy to grasp, however, digital/mobile leadership development tends to induce a lot more questions. “So it must be e-learning!” – sounds the typical sign of understanding. I usually answer that only in the sense that they are both digital and aim at teaching something. When we dig one feet deeper, mobile microlearning is something very different, especially if it is developed by behavioural science freaks as we are. I thought I would share with you what kind of conceptual considerations we had when developing Act2Manage app, taking a completely different route from typical e-learning solutions. Even though mobile leaning is in its infancy, there is lots of deliberation behind these tools.
Just when you need it
Nowadays, whatever information we need, we typically just Google it. If we are good enough at choosing keywords and we can distinguish credible information from misleading bullshit, we are used to getting a quick answer for our questions. When we were developing the core concept of Act2Manage app, we aimed at helping managers cope with their current leadership dilemmas by quickly providing relevant ideas for action, without requiring them to wade through books or scientific studies. This resulted in the idea that we should present knowledge in the framework of questions. When managers are not sure what to do, their dilemma will surface as a question anyway.
Even a 15-minute e-learning content has plenty of information, typically much more than you would need to solve a specific problem at hand. Not to mention that a fifteen-twenty minute chunk requires that you take a deep breath, roll up your sleeve and make an effort to go through it. Probably a short input that takes no more than a few minutes would turn you to the right direction. Moreover, in many cases you only need to be reminded of something that you already know.
Simplicity and focus
Although nice pics and spectacular videos are great, and we would be able to create beautiful and entertaining ones, microlearning is best served by simplicity. It’s worth taking a look at Google’s main page. There is a search field and more or less that’s it. Results pages are also not too fancy. A few sponsored links at the top, and the most relevant results below. It was interesting experience when we asked Act2Manage users what they valued most in the app. They said that our contents are simple, short and to the point. It’s only HR and L&D colleagues who sometimes miss shiny happy stuff from the app. Our primary goal though is not increasing content consumption but to enhance behavioural change. And this isn’t best achieved by entertaining media content.
Bias for action
Regarding behaviour, adults learn mostly from experience. Whatever they tried out and worked for them have a chance to develop into habits. And habits are a stronger determinant of behaviour than people would generally think. They drive our actions far more than our deliberate thinking, therefore it makes sense to build on them, and create habits that serve us. So Act2Manage app does not only offer information or advice and check understanding. You cannot complete a training content until you make a specific commitment related to the new learning. As several behavioural science research initiatives have proven, even a small commitment increases the probability of behavioural change. Maybe it’s a hassle but it really makes sense, much more than just consuming extra content with some popcorn and soda on the side.
Reminders and nudging
A major healthcare challenge is that patients tend to forget taking the prescribed medication at the required time every day. Related research gives evidence that sending a text message when the medication is due can radically decrease the instances when people forget to take it. Act2Manage sends polite reminders about commitments, informs the user that a self-set deadline is approaching, and provides a simple tool for follow-up. The only reason is to increase the probability of keeping up those commitments.
The Progress Principle
About a decade ago, Theresa Amabile and her colleagues published their research in Harvard Business Review with the outcome that the feeling of progress is a main motivator at work. Act2Manage app has several tools that give feedback to the user on his or her progress: scores, badges, levels, progress bars, completed question/topic statistics, etc. Although some of these are also elements of gamification, the power of progress is touched by those users as well who are not much interested in games.
As Peter Ustinov pointed out, it is not ourselves that we should take seriously, but what we do. Wearing a suit, looking serious and presenting ourselves as some wise old advisors will not make our learning tool more valuable. We decided to inject some humour in our sets of quiz questions, and the badges that users can obtain are also quite funny. We believe that work and learning goes better if we are having fun during the process.
Combining with other initiatives
Our experience shows that learning is more effective if we can combine the use of the digital learning tool with other training programs and any hot topics of the client company. These may be change projects, new initiatives, or even items on the annual HR calendar. The main point is that users are more likely to turn their new learning into action if it can be linked to current priorities or issues.
While we are still at the beginning of the digital learning journey and are just exploring the possibilities and proven practices, the eight aspects above show that already quite some thinking went into the development of effective mobile teaching methodologies. So when we talk to potential client companies, it takes significant time to explain the details. We are glad that more and more organisations are interested in mobile leadership development as part of their digitalisation strategy.