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How Choice Architecture Shapes Training Design: This Month on #BLPLearn

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I’m Holly Hilton—Digital Marketing Specialist at Bottom-Line Performance. I’m your new host for our #BLPLearn blog series. Today, I will dive into training design as it pertains to learning and development.

What is Choice Architecture?

Remember in high school when you ate lunch in a cafeteria every day? Some of you may eat in cafeterias now at work. What did you eat most often? Pizza and cookies? Or did you stick with apples and carrots? Research shows that simply rearranging a cafeteria can increase or decrease the consumption of certain foods. So whether you knew it or not, how the food was displayed in your cafeteria actually affected whether you ate a cookie or a carrot.

The ways food is arranged in a cafeteria is a great example of choice architecture, or the careful design of the environments in which people make decisions. A term coined by Thaler and Sunstein in their book, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, choice architecture refers to the idea that how choices are presented affects what people actually choose. Thus, anyone who influences the way people choose is a choice architect. Yes, we’re talking about you!

As a choice architect, you are a builder, creator, designer and engineer. You have the power to influence those who take your training to make certain choices—both good and bad—every day. And in order for these employees to be successful, you want them to make the right choices.

Choice Architecture Starts with Analysis

But where do you begin? The key is analysis. A sound analysis can help you identify a person’s willingness to engage in the choice process, satisfaction with the decision process and the nature of the processes used to make decisions on the job.

You can’t help employees make better decisions unless you identify the underlying issue. To figure out why employees make the wrong choices, look at the environment that already exists. For example, a car salesman can easily rearrange cars on the lot and change the actual environment in which customers choose what car to buy.

In our world, however, the environment (workplace) already exists and is less easily altered. So instead of changing the environment, focus on how employees interact with that environment. Do they have access to the necessary resources and technology they need in order to make good decisions on a daily basis? Do they receive proper coaching and feedback? Are job aids readily available?

Choice Architecture and Learning

You’ve completed analysis and now you want to use this new info to help employees make good decisions in the workplace. So how do you go about doing this? Your first thought may be “Training can fix it” – and sometimes it can! The way your training is structured and designed, as well as the tools you use to implement it can have big implications for how employees choose what information to explore and what information to ignore.

But sometimes, training may not be the problem at all; other outside forces could be impacting your employees’ performance. Maybe company policy is hard to follow, or people lack the right tools to follow it. Or you think a specific role is providing coaching, but when you do analysis, you find they’re not coaching at all.

Training may not always the best solution, but when it is… choice architecture can help you design training in a more meaningful and effective way. Here are some tips for getting learners to make the right choices while they take your training:

1. Use Defaults to Automate Learner Choice

When it comes to training, many people believe it’s better to provide learners with lots of choices for how they go through material, what they access, and when they do it. But learning research shows that when you actually restrict people’s choices, and you present a very specific path or default option that’s been designed for them, it’s an overall better learning strategy. This is because many people will take whatever option requires the least amount of effort, or the path of least resistance.

2. Make Learning Convenient and Easy to Access

If your analysis has shown that employees are frequently on-the-go and away from their desks, or the expectation is they’re going to access training in the evenings when they’re not at the computer, then consider a mobile solution. Mobile learning puts training in the palm of your learners’ hands anytime, anywhere, thus making it easier for them to choose to take the training.

3. Provide Realistic Scenarios that Show Consequences & Provide Feedback

Humans make mistakes. And a well-designed system expects its users to make errors. With this expectation, you can help employees make fewer errors by providing performance feedback and implementing real-life scenarios in your course design. These scenarios should reflect realistic situations your employees could face in the workplace and show the consequences associated with each choice that is made so they can make better decisions in the future.

Bottom-line: Channel your inner choice architect and make it easy for your employees to make the right choice every time. Start with analysis, then carefully craft training materials. But only if training is the right solution!