Habit stacking our way to behaviour change: using learning trends to accelerate action

In today’s rapidly evolving work environment, the skills our people need in order to thrive are constantly shifting. This is leaving many professionals turning to learning trends to deliver a strategy that enables agile and adaptable employees, whilst arming them with the skills they need now and tomorrow.

Budgets are tight and timelines are short, yet the demands from the C-Suite on learning and development continue to grow. Therefore it is crucial to create smart and efficient learning practices that benefit both learners and organisations. As a result, new learning trends are continuously emerging, each guaranteeing to revolutionise workplace learning and employee engagement.

In L&Ds never-ending search for the promised land, of course, these new training oases gain traction. But do they actually have a positive impact on behaviour change, or do they merely generate high levels of engagement without tangible, measurable results?

Learning climate change

The learning industry is rapidly evolving to keep up with the digital disruption, skills demands and learner behaviour. This evolution brings with it a multitude of new trends and learning theories. From microlearning to artificial intelligence, these trends are reshaping the L&D landscape. But, to understand why and how, we must first understand the current learning climate.

With the rapid pace of change, there is a feeling of uncertainty and overwhelm within the workforce. Learners are feeling the pressure to adapt and improve within both their professional and their personal lives. The digital world is constantly evolving, and the pace of technological change coupled with the growing skills gap makes the need for learning and reflection abundantly clear.

Within day-to-day work, many learners are facing struggles posed by hybrid work, learner fatigue, engagement and communication issues. All of which contribute to increasing levels of employee stress. This can make it difficult to maintain mental clarity and focus on learning new things, let alone implementing them into their daily behaviours and routines. These feelings are felt by individuals and organisations as a whole, which can considerably affect their workforce’s sense of disorientation and motivation to learn. A workforce that lacks the correct skills can seriously affect an organisation’s ability to innovate, grow – and ultimately – their bottom line.

Organisations need to be investing in their learning solutions and offering their workforce effective skills development. This is where learning trends come in, offering learners new and exciting ways of learning to increase engagement and create impactful behaviour change. However, many learning trends fall short, as the focus primarily on learner attention and engagement when they should be focusing on action.

For a learning trend to truly create tangible change – it needs to encourage learners to act and apply their knowledge beyond the course walls.

More than ever, finding systematic ways to improve and implement behaviour change is critical. And one trend which could hold the answer, is that of habit-stacking and creating incremental change…

Clear-ing the Fogg

A notable learning trend that is gaining popularity on social media right now is habit-stacking. It’s a salient example of social media being used to help people enable real and sustainable behaviour change. Championed by behavioural scientists like BJ Fogg and James Clear, habit-stacking is deeply rooted in behavioural science and acts as a form of implementation intention.

Habit-stacking is a simple concept: when implementing new habits or behaviour changes, rather than simply pairing them with a particular time and location or adding them to your to-do list, you pair them with existing habits. This makes the habit easier to implement and stick to.

The science behind the trend can be explained by the process of synaptic pruning, which involves building and strengthening connections in your brain. Every day your brain is building a strong network of neurons to support your current behaviours. The more you do something, the stronger and more efficient the connection becomes.

By linking your new habits to existing cycles already built in your brain, the likelihood of sticking to them increases. Created by Fogg as part of his Tiny Habits program, this method has helped people make real behaviour changes through tiny adjustments to their daily habits and routines, with a real focus on intentional practices and practical actions.

This concept is encouraging people to optimise their daily decisions by building better habits, and this is the kind of behaviour change sought by L&D to support the business.

Healing through habit stacking

Due to the demands of our learners’ daily roles, it’s easy to fall into autopilot. They can forget specific learning practices during their workday or depend solely on their own motivation. Over time, however, motivation can deplete due to a lack of focused attention.

These situations can make our learners feel deflated. They might be less inclined to engage with further learning or to implement good habits. Learning trends are great at sparking quick engagement and boosting short-term motivation. But they often miss a crucial element: the sustainable execution of habits to support the learning.

More and more, we see a gap. Learners know what they should be learning or doing, but the actual implementation is often missing.

It’s important to remember that merely scrolling through reels and reels of ‘learning’ videos is quite different from actually embedding new knowledge or executing tasks. This is where a lot of learning trends in L&D can fall short, because they can lull learners into a false sense of achievement whilst they haven’t actively done anything. A parallel can be drawn here to the ‘Netflix’ learning approach many organisations fell into at the start of the pandemic, investing in catalogues of digital learning that only caused decision fatigue and content overload for its learners. This tells us that action is key.

So how could we put this implementation intention into practice through our digital learning? The first step is to focus on incremental change. Instead of attempting large-scale transformations, we should aim to make small, gradual changes. We can achieve this by weaving learning into the everyday activities our learners are already comfortable with. By helping learners create their own action or resource tool kits through our courses, we encourage them to examine their current work habits and behaviours and explore ways to enhance them.

By focusing on incremental, intentional change we can avoid learner burnout and help our workforce to build better habits. Making small measurable pieces of progress, rather than expecting an entirely new frontier overnight. Afterall, each long-term change or improved behaviour will support the individual and the business towards meeting their goals.

Systematic, sustainable stacking

Learning trends have the potential to have a tangible impact on sustainable behaviour change, however, we need to execute them correctly.

A trend needs three things to boost engagement and spur meaningful behaviour change: a grounding in behavioural theory, scientific support, and clear steps for learners.

It’s more crucial than ever to measure the return on learning investment. Learners and organisations both need to track the impact of their learning efforts. This way, they can ensure continuous development and growth in their roles.

Habit-stacking stands out as a practical and effective learning trend. It provides a structured way for learners to change their behaviour with visible progress.

Thinking long-term

In the pursuit of sustainable workplace learning, habit stacking emerges as a promising learning trend. By focusing on intentional, incremental change and leveraging existing habits, organisations can empower employees to adopt new behaviours effectively.

Learning trends must prioritise action over mere engagement, guiding learners to implement specific actions that drive behaviour change.

Using habit stacking as a tool, organisations can unlock the potential for lasting behaviour change in the workplace.

What learning trends have you seen in L&D and have they worked for your organisation and learners? Share them with us in the comments below!