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Learning & Development Blog

habits L&D

The Power of Habit in Learning & Development

Forming strong, positive habits is the cornerstone of success in all aspects of the business world, and learning and development is no exception. By nature, nearly all decisions we make are habit-based—the way we collaborate, interact, and work are all products of certain actions we have repeated over and over. Given this, working to form habits that improve outcomes, foster growth, and create a positive experience for employees should be a top priority for L&D professionals. With the emergence of the digital workplace, employees are forming new habits that can have substantial impacts on business. As people are learning, interacting, and working differently, it is essential that training programs encourage positive habits for collaboration, communication, and productivity.

When thinking about habit, consider these three key factors: cue, routine, reward. Think of this As people are learning, interacting, and working differently, it is essential that training programs encourage positive habits for collaboration, communication, and productivity.as a circular cycle in which the brain uses a cue to perform an act, or routine, which in turn leads to a reward. Our brains love immediate rewards, sometimes making it difficult to focus on big-picture tasks or objectives. For example, it’s much easier for most people to check their phone when it vibrates than it is to begin writing a 20-page paper the day it is assigned. Both of these actions have a cue (phone vibrating, paper being assigned), but they have much different rewards (immediate feedback via phone vs. delayed and unclear feedback on paper). As L&D professionals, our goal is to create positive routines, and the best way to do that is to evaluate and create better cues and rewards.

Still not convinced that habits are an important part of learning and development programs? Consider this Duke University study, which found that up to 45% of our daily behaviors are automatic. This means that nearly half of the work we do is automatic and is the product of habits that have been formed across weeks, months, and years.


We know that habits have a massive impact on work and productivity, so how do we eliminate habits that hinder our business outcomes? Here’s a three-step process that can help you and your team identify and correct poor habits.

1. Examine the routine. This is the action that you would like to change. For example, maybe employees consistently skip a scheduled training session now that work is remote. What is prompting this action? What is the reward?

2. Analyze the reward. If employees are skipping training because they dread it, you can work to correct the reward to change the routine.

3. Identify the cue. When do employees decide not to attend? Is it when the training is assigned, or maybe when a reminder is sent out? Identifying exactly what this trigger is can help encourage a better routine.




As L&D professionals, it is our responsibility to ensure that we understand just how important habits are for the success of a company. As mentioned above, remote work has fundamentally changed how people collaborate, and many poor habits were formed in the transition from office interactions to virtual conference rooms. Fortunately, L&D is uniquely positioned to tackle issues surrounding poor habits, and L&D professionals have the opportunity to emerge as an even stronger part of business operations as a result. The power of habit should be an integral part of every L&D project, so keep the following tips in mind when building your next training solution.

Effective L&D habit formation requires:

  • Repetition. One-and-done training solutions are falling out of favor for various reasons, but none more urging that the fact that they fail to truly change learner behaviors. To create effective habit-forming training, you need to focus on developing solutions that require engagement over weeks or months.
  • Workplace culture. Companies often rely exclusively on training solutions to break bad habits. In reality, company culture plays a massive role in habit formation as well. If your company wants to see lasting change, you will also need to focus on fostering a company culture that supports habits, good learning, and values employee development.
  • Employee buy-in. A common pitfall of L&D programs is a lack of employee buy-in. Have you ever heard the phrase “the first step is admitting you have a problem”? Poor habits need to be recognized and understood before employees can work to break them. Before you implement a training program focused on breaking poor habits, make it clear to your employees why you are doing so.

As you think about your next L&D program, remember that habits are at the base of almost half of what your employees do at work. Ignoring the power of habit can be detrimental to L&D departments and employees because it can make seemingly perfect learning solutions fall short and fail to deliver needed results. Creating an L&D project that supports healthy habit formation is one of the best ways to increase ROI, fundamentally change employee behavior, and ensure your L&D projects succeed.

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