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The Most Important Ingredient in Successful User Adoption

Posted on November 7, 2013 at 07:46 AM

Most eLearning development and organizational change has to do with getting people to take action. This is obvious, yet people often lose focus from the ultimate purpose and get distracted by shiny bells and whistles. Cathy Moore explains this well in an article about action mapping. Whether it is applying the skills they learn from a course or learning to use a new system, if there is no potential future action to be taken after an eLearning course is complete, what's the purpose of the course?

Assuming we want people to take action after completing a course, what is the best way to inspire people to take action and implement what they learned?


A study of the "most shared" articles on the New York Times website was recently conducted, seeking to uncover what types of articles consistently made the "most shared" list. After analyzing thousands of articles, researchers discovered that the root of all sharing is emotion:

"Sharing emotions also helps us connect. Say I watch a really awe-inspiring video, like Susan Boyle’s performance. If I share that video with a friend, he’s likely to feel similarly inspired. And the fact that we both feel the same way helps deepen our social connection. It highlights our similarities and reminds us how much we have in common. Emotion sharing is thus a bit like social glue, maintaining and strengthening relationships. Even if we’re not in the same place, the fact that we both feel the same way bonds us together."
- Jonah Berger, Contagious: Why Things Catch On

Although articles focused on particular emotions increased sharing, which emotions the article triggered had a significant effect. While articles that instilled a sense of awe were shared more frequently, articles that made the reader feel sad were less likely to be shared. Berger writes:

"In fact, sadness had the opposite effect. Sadder articles were actually 16 percent less likely to make the Most E-Mailed list."

To inspire people into action or changing behavior, it's necessary to tap into their emotions and feelings. As the chart from the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On shows, we're motivated to take action when aroused with awe, excitement, amusement, anger, or anxiety.

emotions vs actions

Initially, I would have recommended sticking to only utilizing positive emotions while leaving anger to friends on Facebook writing political rants, but there might be room for utilizing anger in the corporate world as well. When the goal is change, there has to be some dissatisfaction with things as they currently are. When contrasting the way things are now to what they could be, the grass should look greener on the other side. The fundamental key to this emotion is that it should relate specifically to the end user.

But what if the training is boring?

If you're searching for an alibi, you won’t find one here. As GK Chesterton once said, "There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people." Although he wasn’t referring to corporate training, the principle still applies. It just takes work.

Google Search

When I think of boring, but useful consumer products, Google Search is near the top. While the product isn’t very exciting, they were still able to create one of the most remarkable Super Bowl commercials I’ve seen. They did this through deeply understanding the motivations of the end user and creating a message that resonated with them.

How To Find the Emotional Core of an Idea

In the book Made To Stick, Dan and Chip Heath provide a useful tool for discovering how to find the emotional core of any idea by asking "Why" three times.

You start by writing down why you think people are interested in doing something and then ask, "Why is this important?" three times. As Jonah Berger explains:

"Each time you do this, note your answer, and you’ll notice that you drill down further and further toward uncovering not only the core of an idea, but the emotion behind it. Take online search.

Why is search important? Because people want to find information quickly.

Why do they want to do that? So they can get answers to what they are looking for.

Why do they want those answers? So they can connect with people, achieve their goals, and fulfill their dreams. Now that’s starting to get more emotional."

The “three whys” method can be applied to any type of training, helping you eventually create a learning experience that resonates with people and inspires them to action.

“Both the English words emotion and motivation derive from the same Latin root, movere (meaning “to move”), indicating that, early on, it was recognized that the emotions are motivations to action.”
- Matthew Hurley, Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind

The Head, Heart, and Hands

Emotions aren't the only ingredient to successful user adoption and training. You still need a strategy for addressing the rational (head) and the implementation (hands), but it is emotion (heart) that provides the fuel that drives the learner to the desired destination.

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