The big changes in human behaviour and their impact on learning design

plasma ball representing changes in human behaviour.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously said that “All things are in a state of flux,” and ironically this concept from 500BC still rings true today. Disruptive technologies, new media and new ways of working are changing the way we work and interact. But how have these changes affected human behaviour? What does that mean for L&D? and how do we design our learning experiences to match our ever more virtual world?

Our world is constantly evolving and human behaviour along with it. With the invention of the computer, technology has morphed from a useful tool to becoming an integral part of our daily lives. Its influence on our behaviour is undeniable and our reliance on technology has become even more evident over the past 2 years.

We now spend more time than ever in our virtual world, socialising, building relationships, working, and, more recently, learning.

But as we see tech advancements ramping up even more over the next few years, along with the rise of the Metaverse, and the continued growth of geographically dispersed teams, how will the world of learning keep up the pace?

Human beings are now accustomed to accessing information in seconds, entertainment 24hrs a day and applications that can complete a multitude of tasks automatically. With all this rich multi-sensory content available to us instantly, learning programmes have fallen behind in matching this experience.

We are enthralled by technology; however, we are distracted by it too. We have become less physically active and isolated by remote work, our well-being along with growing global environmentalism will begin affecting our behaviour and the decisions we make. How will L&D respond?

Discover the critical changes in human behaviour we have identified and their impacts on learning design below:

The 4 big changes in human behaviour and their impact

Here are our 4 big changes in human behaviour and their impact on learning design:

  1. We have a reduced attention span.
  2. Our evolving definition of work:life balance.
  3. We’re more environmentally conscious.
  4. We lead an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

We’ll explore each of these changes in greater detail below:

1. We have a reduced attention span

A few years ago, Microsoft conducted research on the human attention span with startling results: they claim that the average attention span is dwindling dramatically and now lies at 8 seconds – goldfish territory (9 seconds)!

Although their research study has been widely debated, one thing is for sure, we are completely distracted by the multiple devices, screens, apps, and notifications that now seem to dominate our waking lives. With this wealth of information at our fingertips at all times, we find ourselves increasingly attention poor.

Impact on learning design

As technology advances continue to accelerate, trainers will need to compete for the attention of their learners. So perhaps the answer lies with designing our programmes so that they can be easily digested by our multiscreen, multitasking population.

This is where the concept of ‘Microlearning’ comes into play.

Instead of long lecture-based courses, Microlearning consists of segmenting a subject or lesson into small bite-size chunks. Whether you use video, audio, or text-based content, the principal is to provide learners with multiple short pieces of information which they can review quickly and easily, enhancing their engagement with the content.

Studies of university students have revealed that 5-8mins is the optimum length of content for sustained engagement.

Some organisations have already embraced this philosophy and are using tools such as 7Taps whereby lessons appear much like a social media ‘story’ on your mobile where you swipe through the various pages.

2. Our evolving definition of work:life balance

Were are now more focused on achieving life:work balance. Yes, in that order – life first, work second…

During the pandemic, resignations rose sharply from the end of 2020 and doubled to over half a million by 2021. Why did this happen? Dramatic career changes? Financially beneficial offers from other companies? Actually, neither of the above – in the UK, resignations were driven overwhelmingly by workers moving sideways into new jobs in the same occupation. This suggests that companies that were not offering sufficient flexibility and support to their staff lost them to a competitor who would.

Now many workers continue to work remotely, and teams remain dispersed. Companies can attract employees from all over the globe and likewise, workers can be location independent and now have a greater choice of employer. Teams will continue to become more diverse with employees based in different countries and time zones and the themes of flexibility and inclusion will become ever more important.

When we look towards the future, Generation Z, members of the population born between 1997 and 2012, will soon form the largest demographic on earth. Drastically different in their outlook and behaviours from their older counterparts, Gen Zers prioritise their personal life ahead of the demands of their work, with 42% reporting that they consider this a top priority when searching for a job.

Impact on learning design

Flexibility needs to be built into every area of our working lives. Employees won’t travel for training anymore.  Unless they are already on-site, it will be viewed as unfair for organisations to even request that employees travel or attend training outside of their contracted hours. This will be due to the potential negative impact that this extended workday will have on their personal life and wellbeing. Not to mention the sustainability factor. 

So how do we build flexibility into our training design so participants can benefit and contribute regardless of their working schedules or personal arrangements?

Well, just as we have transitioned to greater levels of asynchronous communications in the workplace to support collaboration with our remote colleagues, naturally these inclusive interactions will need to spill over into our virtual training rooms. Beyond self-led learning, we can build async elements into our learning experiences utilising the digital tools that already exist i.e. virtual whiteboards that could support engagement and collaboration asynchronously e.g., MURAL, Miro and Google Jamboard.

3. We’re more environmentally conscious

Sustainability is becoming increasingly influential in our lives and an organisation’s green credentials will become a big differentiator to attract and retain talent. Last year, a survey conducted by IBM reported that a massive “71% of employees and employment seekers say that environmentally sustainable companies are more attractive employers.”

Impact on learning design

In the future, we will see that employees won’t travel large distances and organisations won’t require them to, due to their commitment to sustainability. These types of activities will be viewed negatively and considered indulgent and frivolous. Instead, we will see this part of the L&D budget being more wisely invested in designing learning that can be delivered anywhere.

4. We lead an increasingly sedentary lifestyle

By now we’ve all heard the disturbing new phrase: “Sitting is the new smoking.” And although many of us might disregard this as mere exaggeration, recent studies have linked periods of immobility to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even cancer. In fact, the WHO ranks ‘physical inactivity’ as the world’s 4th biggest preventable killer.

The truth is most of us (even if in an office) are sitting for far too long. Now that remote work is becoming the norm in most companies across the world this situation is inevitably going to be exacerbated. Gone are the days of the dreaded commute but unfortunately so too is that daily walk to the station or cycle to the office, and this banked time is not being utilised for regular physical activity. Once the working day begins, all our colleagues are a click of a mouse away we no longer need to take a quick trip to their desks or go for a stroll to the local café for our lunch break.

Impact on learning design

People are becoming more conscious of the importance of self-care. As health implications of this more sedentary lifestyle become more apparent over the coming years, we will see people being intentional when it comes to breaks and embedding a regular exercise regime around their workday including “exercise snacks.” Employees will start to gain more confidence and become more assertive when it comes to their well-being. We will see participants become more demanding in training sessions and look for opportunities to a) move and b) break away from their screens. How could this translate to how we structure our training programmes?

Perhaps we need to begin designing training that can be done away from our desktops. This might consist of self-led activities such as modules delivered via short podcasts whereby learners are encouraged to consume the content whilst walking outdoors.

Key Takeaways

Learning Design needs an update to keep pace with changing human behaviour. L&D teams should consider implementing on-demand learning elements to support virtual training, delivering material in bite-sized chunks using microlearning tools such as 7taps. This approach would give maximum flexibility to be integrated into working schedules and delivered in a sustainable and health-conscious way with the incorporation of “exercise snacks”.

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