Behavior Research Links

So, I was just talking to someone interesting in doing user research for behavior change, and I put together a set of links for her.  I thought it was a useful list, so also posting it here:

This is a nice collection of resources about UX User Research, including a list of people to follow:

A Habit-based Approach to Racial Bias

We all carry around implicit bias. It’s embedded in the culture, and it’s hideously obvious that it can lead to horrible tragic results.
This is study that has really been influencing my thinking about a habit-based approach to behavior change. The results actually show reduction in people’s implicit racial bias. It’s remarkable and rare to change something so deeply ingrained.
I’ve been using this study as an example of a habit-based approach to behavior change, but it seems timely to talk about these actual strategies — not as an example, but as an actual opportunity to improve our own bias. 
Here’s the actual study:

Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention
Patricia G. Devine, Patrick S. Forscher, Anthony J. Austin, and William T. L. Cox
J Exp Soc Psychol. 2012 Nov; 48(6): 1267–1278.

Here’s what they found:
Students took the Black-White Implicit Association Test (IAT) to test their level of implicit racial bias.  This test is adminstered via Harvard University. I recommend you try it yourself here:
Then participants engaged in five habit-based strategies to counteract their own implicit racial bias. This is important because participants watched for their own bias to show up and engaged in deliberately counteracting the incidents with one or more specific habit strategies. This gets at behavior rather than just intent.
Here are the specific strategies from the study:
  • Stereotype replacement
    This strategy involves replacing stereotypical responses for non-stereotypical responses. Using this strategy to address personal stereotyping involves recognizing that a response is based on stereotypes, labeling the response as stereotypical, and reflecting on why the response occurred. Next one considers how the biased response could be avoided in the future and replaces it with an unbiased response (Monteith, 1993). A parallel process can be applied to societal (e.g., media) stereotyping.
  • Counter-stereotypic imaging
    This strategy involves imagining in detail counter-stereotypic others (Blair et al., 2001). These others can be abstract (e.g., smart Black people), famous (e.g., Barack Obama), or non-famous (e.g., a personal friend). The strategy makes positive exemplars salient and accessible when challenging a stereotype’s validity.
  • Individuation
    This strategy relies on preventing stereotypic inferences by obtaining specific information about group members (Brewer, 1988; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990). Using this strategy helps people evaluate members of the target group based on personal, rather than group-based, attributes.
  • Perspective taking
    This strategy involves taking the perspective in the first person of a member of a stereotyped group. Perspective taking increases psychological closeness to the stigmatized group, which ameliorates automatic group-based evaluations (Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000).
  • Increasing opportunities for contact
    This strategy involves seeking opportunities to encounter and engage in positive interactions with out-group members. Increased contact can ameliorate implicit bias through a wide variety of mechanisms, including altering the cognitive representations of the group or by directly improving evaluations of the group (Pettigrew, 1998; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006).
The results were successful in reducing implicit racial bias (as measured by the IAT) for the intervention group:
As I mentioned above, this is an exceptional result.  Traditional diversity classes often produce good intentions but little behavior change, and rarely address the deep level of unconscious bias.
Hope this is helpful. – Julie

Book Giveaway and Other News

Hey folks,

So Bryan Jones at did a very fun interview with me for his blog.  In conjunction with the interview, he’s giving away five copies of Design For How People Learn! is a nifty resource for creating scenario based learning, and much easier than combing the stock photo sites for multiple pictures of the same model.



A few other things that are happening:

There’s an interview with me on where I talk about things like the importance of using conversational language.

I’m also teaching a few public workshops in the next few months.

I’m teaching at session of the Advanced Instructional Design for Elearning Certificate at the ATD ICE Conference on May 20-21 in Denver.

I’m also doing an elearning instructional design certificate program at the Online Learning Conference in Chicago September 19-20.


Complexity and Learning

I’m kind of obsessing about complexity theory right now (Dave Snowden’s Cynefin Model mostly), and looking at simple, complicated and complex systems. I had a lot of conversations about this last weekend, and have been thinking about it a lot.

A couple of upfront disclaimers — first, I’m just learning about this, so I don’t pretend to really understand this stuff.  It’s my interpretation, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to know I’m getting the details wrong. Second, I’m not digging into Chaotic (for now at least). Third, there’s a much longer post on this brewing, and I have more questions than answers right now.

So — let’s apply this to the question of school testing, for example:

Simple things (with explicit rule sets) are probably fine to assess via multiple choice tests. MCQs for multiplication tables? Sure! No problem!

But complicated things (e.g. the subtleties of designing a scientific experiment) and complex things (e.g. problem-solving skills) do not have explicit rule sets, and are therefore NOT appropriate topics for a really reductionistic assessment methods.

School testing models are trying to squeeze all the ambiguity out of the system by trying to control every variable. You can do that with simple and possibly with complicated systems (though it’s an insane amount of work — witness the amount of procedural documentation in the air safety industry, or the nuclear power industry in their attempt to eliminate all ambiguity. It’s usually only justifiable when people’s lives are at stake).

But you can’t (by definition) eliminate all the ambiguity in complex systems. E.g. you can teach principals for problem-solving, or a process, but how it gets implemented depends on the context, which you can’t control. That’s where teachers, with their personal judgment and ability to adapt, become really important. It’s one of the limitations of computer-based instruction.

People don’t like not having control. School testing is trying to exert control by pretending that everything can be put in the simple box, so it can be measures using simple, objective measures. But it just doesn’t work.

I think there’s some real value in having a good way to assess whether or not  you are dealing with a simple, complicated or complex situation, and adjusting not only your assessment, but also your learning design for that. Working on this, but if you know of anything really useful, please let me know.

A couple of good resources:


Design For How People Learn, Second Edition

Hey Folks — the second edition of Design For How People Learn is now out! It came out right before the end of the year.  I’ll be updating the website this week.

Design for How People Learn, 2nd Edition


What’s different?

The first edition content is still mostly there.  I expanded on a few points about motivation and skill development, but the main change is the addition of three new chapters:

  • Design for Habits
  • Social and Informal Learning
  • Designing Evaluation

Both the social/informal material and the evaluation material are things that probably should have been in the first edition and weren’t (fixed that!), and the habit chapter reflects a change in my own practice — I’ve been finding it useful to call out habit formation separately when doing analysis and design.

Where can I get it?

All the usual places, in all the formats:

If I already have the first edition, do I need to get this one too?

Not necessarily (don’t tell my publisher I said that), but if you’d like to get around buying a whole new copy, here are some other resources:

The habit chapter is an expanded version of this article:
The social/informal chapter is an overview of that topic, but there are lots of smart people writing about social/informal learning who specialize in that area.  A few include:
I collected a few other favorite resources here:
The last chapter is evaluation.  It’s an overview as well, but the biggest two points are:
– User testing (see Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think book)
– Qualitative measure (see Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method)

But what if I want the shiny new version?

I, of course, support that 🙂  Maybe you could pass on your first edition copy to somebody who could benefit, and get yourself a second edition? Just a suggestion.
Sincere thanks to all the readers of the first edition!  If I’m reading the royalty statements right (no guarantee), it looks like we are right around 25K copies sold, which is fantastic and amazing and gratifying. Thank you.

I’m an Elephant!

Specifically, I’m a Neon Elephant:


The Neon Elephant is an award from Dr. Will Thalheimer of Work-Learning Research, given for bridging the gap between research and learning practice.

This is really delightful, given the company of previous awardees:

  • 2014 – Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel for their book, Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
  • 2013 –  Gary Klein
  • 2012 – K. Anders Ericsson
  • 2011 – Jeroen van Merriënboer
  • 2010 – Richard E. Clark
  • 2009 – Ruth Clark
  • 2008 – Robert Brinkerhoff
  • 2007 – Sharon Shrock and Bill Coscarelli
  • 2006  – Cal Wick

Lots of smart people on that list.  You should check our their stuff. Thanks Will!

(In other news, the second edition of the book is out.  I’ll be doing a separate announcement on that shortly).

Social Games & Community Development

So I’ve been doing research for a chapter on social and informal learning that I’m adding the second edition, and I’ve been taking a look at some of the resources on social gaming because they know a *lot* about community development. This is collection of some of the best resources I’ve found.

Core Concepts for Social Experience Design

This is such great stuff.  I know it’s labelled as Gamification, but the fabulous Amy Jo Kim deals primarily with social experience design, and the part about looking at the action verbs for different player types is pure gold.

Social Difficulty Curve

The always excellent Extra Credit folks did a series on the social difficulty curve — basically, how do you ease players into online social game interaction.  This dovetails well with Amy Jo Kim’s player’s journey as well:

These are part of Extra Credits playlist on game design, which if you are interested in game design at all, is just a treasure trove of goodness for learning about game design.

Community Development

It’s not a game design resource, but Tom Kuhlmann and his team run one of the best learning communities on the web.  Regardless of whether or not you are an Articulate or Storyline user,  is great resource of helping for people who build elearning.

In this series of videos, you can see him explaining some of the motivation and strategies behind how they develop and grow that community.







Upcoming from Usable Learning – Fall 2015


Hey folks, I hope everyone is having a spectacular summer (or lovely winter if you are southern hemisphere-ish). There’s a lot of different things coming up in the next few months, so I thought I would mention them here:

Next week, I’m doing a keynote for the Atlanta ATD Chapter’s Annual Conference.  I’m also doing on a 1-day post conference workshop.  There are three spots left for the workshop.  I’m looking forward to it — it will be a chance to pull out my toolbox of best instructional design tools. It’s also a bargain at $149 🙂

I’m doing an online UX Essentials class for ATD this year, and the next session is September 16th.  The Essentials series are a good beginner exposure to a topic, and these are a lot of fun.

I’m really excited about the 1-day workshop on Behavior Change at DevLearn (September 29) this year — I do talks on this topic quite a bit, but this is the first time that I’ve corralled everything into one place for a workshop format. I’m really looking forward to it.

I’m also doing an Instructional Design basics workshop at the Online Learning Conference in Denver on October 5-6.


I’m working on a second edition of the book! I’m adding chapters on habit formation, social and informal learning, and evaluation, and expanding the motivation and environment chapters. Also fixing a few pesky typos: