You Can't Measure Learning, But You Can Measure Behaviour

By January 11, 2012Ideas

A guest post by Koreen Olbrish, Ayogo VP of Learning Design.
I’m overstating it a bit with the title of this post, because sure, you can measure knowledge acquisition by pre-testing and post-testing, or iterative assessment. I know, I know…we can measure how much someone knows because we have standardized tests! (I really hope the sarcasm is evident in text…)

I spent the last three days at the mHealth Summit in Washington, DC and 19 hours manning the Ayogo booth, talking to amazingly interesting people about the potential of games to improve health outcomes, especially patient adherence and engagement. What mattered to everyone? It wasn’t what people know…amazingly, most everyone actually knows what they need to do to be healthier. The challenge is to get people to actually DO those healthy things that will help them better manage their diabetes, reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease, etc.
When it comes to health, but really when it comes to ANYTHING, there is a knowing-doing gap. We all know this…so then why are we as a learning profession settling for assessing knowing? Knowing is not doing. The proof is in the behaviour, and behaviour can be easily measured.
We live in an age where everything we do is tracked. Do you carry a cell phone? Your wireless carrier knows where you take that phone all day, every day. Do you use a credit card or bank card? All of your purchases are tracked. Do you log onto the Internet? Every site that you visit is logged and recorded (yeah…I know…you delete the history. That just means your kids won’t see those sites your visiting…but your Internet service provider still knows).
All of that data, and more…everything you post on Facebook, Twitter…everything you email…anything you do is trackable now. And more ways to track behaviour are being created every day…sleep monitors, pedometers, glucose monitors…there is data EVERYWHERE and it is all about you. And me. And the guy sitting in traffic next to you who’s using his gps.
With all of this data, we can start making predictions about future outcomes. We can target specific communities or subsets of employees, populations, learners. We can provide information to the most relevant audiences in the most appropriate places.
As learning professionals, we should be thinking more closely about the implications of that data and what it means to know so much about a person’s current status and the implications for her future status. Can we change the future? Why yes…yes we can. We can observe current behaviours, predict future outcomes, and use our expertise in learning and performance improvement to change behaviour to improve those future outcomes.
We have access to so much behavioural data. How do we get people to change their behaviour, when we know that people operate in a world of short-term benefit over long-term reward? We’re not going to change those behaviours through knowledge training…we’ll only change them through behaviourally-focused training. Games, simulations, contextualized practice…immersive learning environments are the bridge between having access to data and changing behaviour for better results.
We can, and already do, measure behaviour in almost every aspect of our lives. Learning professionals need to stop focusing on knowledge and start focusing on behavioural change as the basis of our design practice or risk obsolescence (see: Instructional Design is Dead). Our jobs aren’t about making sure people know things…they are about making sure people can do things better and in the case of health outcomes, use the knowledge to improve patient engagement in the process of becoming healthier. We can design those experiences and measure those outcomes. If we aren’t doing that, we’re not doing our jobs.
Gauntlet thrown.


*This article was originally published last month on Koreen’s blog Learning in Tandem. We’re thrilled to announce that Koreen will be a regular contributor to our blog. She will be posting original articles about e-learning, ARGs, and gamification in education on this blog the first Wednesday of every month. So stay tuned.
About the Author
Koreen Olbrish founded Tandem Learning (a division of Ayogo) to demonstrate the untapped potential of immersive learning design. Applying her background in experiential learning and technology for education, Olbrish advocates new ways of leveraging technology for enterprise learning with emphasis on performance improvement and behavioral change. She has strong ties to education, having received her M.S. in curriculum and instruction from Penn State University and helping start Freire Charter School in Philadelphia in 1999. Her recent experience has been in the development of enterprise learning solutions, with particular expertise in simulations, games and the application of virtual worlds for learning.
For more information about how games can be used to educate and motivate, please contact Michael Fergusson: michael (at) ayogo (dot) com.