By: Lauren Mason Carris, Penny AI
Create lasting behavior change with ongoing results
In the wake of direct selling’s “digital transformation,” one area remains largely underserved, yet has incredible potential. (And it’s probably not the most obvious one.) It’s learning design.
True learning isn’t just the acquisition of knowledge. It’s a behavior change.
With rapid changes in technology, compliance, and globalization, the pace of learning, unlearning, and relearning is relentless for individuals at all levels of an organization. Companies are investing more and more in new tools and rethinking internal processes to optimize business and increase efficiencies, yet one critical variable in the equation is overlooked—behavior change as a result of learning.
Consider the rollout of a new tool and the mental anguish caused by having to learn that new tool’s features and functionality. Sometimes, the friction or effort to change is so great that users revert back to clunky, less than optimal tools because they have already built familiar habits.
Curating knowledge and rolling out a new tool is not a guarantee for behavior change. And despite the rise in digital transformation, we’re seeing the same pain points persist, such as:
- High consultant churn
- Leader overwhelm and pressure
- Inconsistent onboarding experiences
- One-size-fits-all experiences
- Compliance with the FTC
- Monitoring of compliance externally
Traditional “one-and-done” onboarding methods and “content dumping” training methods are no longer fit for purpose and cannot scale at the pace of change we are experiencing.
Learning design changes behavior. An intentionally designed digital learning experience can make all the difference. Emerging from the fields of cognitive and behavioral psychology, the science of learning—and design thinking—learning design can transform entire organizations into learning organizations. By empathizing with learners, mitigating the forgetting curve with learning intervals, and automating habit-forming patterns, learning design can have a positive impact on individuals at any point in their learning journey.
But First, Empathy
Empathy is the cornerstone of the design thinking process. By understanding learner needs, motivators, distractors, and behaviors, designers (as well as organizations and leaders) can better anticipate moments of friction, frustration, and knowledge gaps critical for the field to evolve along their journey.
Imagine a learner snapshot that indicates where the learner lives, the language they speak, the knowledge and behaviors they bring with them, their technical competence, and their goals and aspirations. These data points can bring critical insights about what behaviors may result in a greater effort to change. These insights also inform how to contextualize, motivate, and reward a learner along their journey.
These insights can in turn help organizations identify the most critical, relevant, and meaningful aspects of onboarding or new knowledge as well as when to deliver such learning. Continuously evaluating your learners’ experiences to identify moments of delight and mitigate troughs of despair (the Dunning-Kruger Effect) can make all the difference in retaining learners at both onboarding and continuous-learning stages.
AI-powered Learning Intervals to Reset the Forgetting Curve
Research conducted across the industry tells us that the onboarding experience and “first moment” of success are sometimes at odds, given that both need to happen immediately and continue in some fashion. This reality tugs at learners’ mental capacity and bandwidth and puts organizations at risk of learners not acquiring essential knowledge while forgetting knowledge gained before use. Traditional onboarding and continuous learning, or training events, are typically massive one-time events in isolation. Lots of learning may happen during the event and memory is strengthened, but forgetting happens as soon as the learning event ends because the learner wants to get busy being successful.
Onboarding and event training as a series of smaller learning moments (small steps) with concrete outcomes, repeated at regular intervals, can help learners reach their desired destination in far more effective ways. This approach maximizes retention of information and knowledge, increases desired behavior change, resets the forgetting curve, and leads to more satisfying learning experiences.
Automating Learning in the Flow of Work
Repeated, routine behaviors completed on a regular basis become hardwired into our brains, creating habit loops. We are then able to perform these behaviors, or tasks, without much thought, leading us to operate on autopilot. How can we leverage this concept to inform training and upskilling of a direct selling force? By creating automated patterns for the basic daily tasks that need to be done.
Leading experimental psychologist Steven Pinker has spent years studying brain patterns to understand how our minds have evolved over time. Having focused most of his career exploring evolutionary psychology and human nature, his advice on what role technologists can play on “humanizing” our future is profound in the context of learning and automation. While many fear “the robots taking over” or “computers making us dumb,” Steven deduced that, actually, technology’s greatest boon for our brains is to maximize our efficiency.
We are happier and more fulfilled if we don’t have to waste time doing inefficient things. When we think about the field, what is the No. 1thing slowing them down? It’s the inability to efficiently and quickly:
Often, onboarding and upskilling is considered a waste of time as consultants are driven by the urgency to get going and start making money. Leaders reach a saturation point with constantly learning new tools to optimize their business. And when so many companies have thrown tool after tool at their field with no real impact, who can blame them?
The biggest drive for the field is generating revenue. Yet, as mentioned earlier, when learning how to generate revenue (the knowledge) and learning how to use a tool to complete revenue-generating tasks (the actions) are in different places, the two efforts are in direct competition with each other. So, what is the answer? Personalize and integrate the experience. Bring relevant learning into the flow of work, in the spaces where learners are doing their work—in this case, working their business.
Take Duolingo, for example. These science-driven, digital, bite-sized language lessons use AI to deliver repeatable patterns of learning content. Duolingo assesses and adapts to each learner’s skill level based on their behaviors and sets goals based on their learning appetite. Learners are rewarded for their achievements and “re-learn” information at regular intervals, reducing the risk of forgetting.
Imagine this approach applied to direct sales onboarding where sellers are taken through an ongoing workflow of learning while working their business. The technology learns with them, guiding them through a personalized path based on their technological proficiency, time capacity, behaviors and ability to apply learning to action, and progress along their self-identified goals. This future-state of learning delivers smarter technology that empowers users to have agency over their learning journey and expedite their business success. It’s “learning in the flow of business success.”
Where To Start and Why?
Creating a successful learning design roadmap is a considerable undertaking. Applying learning design to your company takes time and adjustment, but the return on investment yields significant rewards:
- Reduced consultant churn
- Increased consultant success
- Lifted pressure from team leaders
- Improved compliance across field comms
- Connected corporate and field
- Taken action on data-driven performance and behavior insights
Start small: as in the smallest risk, smallest moment of success, and smallest bit of knowledge needed to take action toward success. Start with new social sellers and the critical actions needed for success. Identify the skills, knowledge, and practice needed to achieve success. Map these events across an “action map” that defines the learning journey. Identify the smallest, most relevant information that can be applied in action, and celebrate the completion of the knowledge + action = behavior change flow. This process maximizes brain activation, creates a reward pattern, and generates the dopamine hit required to make it stick. Then deliver this flow within the tools your field uses to run their business.
So how can learning design change your entire company? The way people learn and work has changed. Our brains and our behaviors have been shaped by the digital world we live in. Investing in a science-backed digital learning platform built for the mind (and heart) of direct sellers today is paramount for future success.
Taking control of the field’s training through a sophisticated, AI-powered, data-driven system is just the way to truly create lasting behavior change. It’s time we all learn to succeed.
Lauren Mason Carris,
VP Learning Design, Penny AI