Teach Your Members How to Build a Learning Habit

“Learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century.”

Although he died in 1979, the author of that quote, New Yorker contributor S.J. Perelman, foresaw decades ago today’s professional development landscape. Earlier this year, The Economist reaffirmed his message: “Lifelong learning is becoming an economic imperative.”

Your members would agree that lifelong learning is critical for advancing in their careers and remaining employable. But how many set aside time on a regular basis to learn?

The Benefits of a Learning Habit

Members who value learning enough to make it a habit don’t learn because an employer or licensing body demands it. They’re intrinsically motivated to learn. They’re even willing to invest their own time and money in professional development if their employer doesn’t.

Learning is part of their character and they seek it out wherever they can find it by:

  • Reading blogs, articles, reports, tip sheets, white papers, ebooks, and books.
  • Listening to podcasts.
  • Watching videos.
  • Attending webinars.
  • Participating in online communities.
  • Taking online classes and courses.
  • Attending virtual or in-person conferences, discussion groups, and book clubs.

When you help members develop a learning habit, they get more out of their membership—and out of life. They’re more receptive to your marketing messages about educational programs, and will turn to you when they’re ready to invest in their education.

How to Help Your Members Develop the Learning Habit

In the last few years, habit development has been a popular topic for TED talks and best-selling books. As behavioral scientists learn more about the brain, their findings on habit development have been the basis of countless articles in traditional and digital media. Game developers, consumer brands, and political campaigns have hired these behavioral scientists to leverage their expertise and research findings in the pursuit of eyeballs, dollars, and votes.

Your association can also apply these behavioral science principles to strategies and tactics that help your members develop learning habits.

Nurture the Motivation to Learn

Everyone has enough time in their day to learn, but they have to make learning a priority over other activities. It’s easier to go on Facebook, play a game, or watch Netflix than read something thought-provoking. Members have to be strongly motivated to replace an existing habit with a new learning habit.

Motivation must have emotional resonance. Facts and logic alone aren’t sufficient, but they can support emotionally-driven motivators, like fear, self-esteem, mastery, responsibility, and relevancy.

The need for lifelong learning should be a constant theme in your membership culture. Convey this message with a sense of urgency via every channel you have. Share perspectives and statistics about the emergence of new skills, technology, jobs, and trends, and the need for members to prepare themselves for the future. In addition to your usual content, consider creating and sharing content about lifelong learning, growth mindset, habit development, and other transformative topics.

As part of your membership onboarding or renewal process, ask members to reflect on what they want to achieve professionally in the next year, 3 years, and 5 years.

  • How would they like to change their life?
  • What are some possible directions for their career?
  • What do they want to learn to help them get ahead or shift directions?

If resources permit, provide suggestions to help them make progress toward their goals. Let them see and get motivated by a learning path.

Start with Small Habits and Small Wins

People make the same New Year’s resolutions year after year because they don’t break down their goals into doable small steps. To develop a sustainable habit, remove the natural resistance to change by starting with one small step at a time—something that requires little time and effort.

New habits stick when you see an early reward or return for your effort. Game developers leverage this behavioral principle by allowing early small wins and providing a quick sense of gratification.

How can you help members start small and achieve early wins? One way is to regularly show them the options they have for micro-learning.

  • Every day, feature an article, video, or audio in your newsletter, on your website, or on the learner dashboard in your LMS that takes 5 minutes or less to digest: “If you only have 5 minutes, read (watch/listen to) this.”
  • Make sure all content, including online learning content, is mobile-friendly so members can take five minutes to learn anytime and anywhere.
  • Provide context for ‘how-to’ content—show them how to take what they’ve learned and apply it immediately to their work.
  • Include micro-learning, or rewards such as digital badges, in the design of all online learning classes and courses.
  • Promote a learning challenge: 5, 10, or 15 minutes of learning for 5, 10, or 30 days.

build a daily learning habit

Explain the Benefit of Anchor Habits

Our brains turn routines into habits to save energy and be efficient. To develop a new habit, first identify an anchor habit that’s already a routine in your daily life, like sitting down with a cup of coffee or starting your computer. This anchor habit can serve as a trigger for a new habit, for example, reading for 15 minutes. Before long, without thinking, your brain will go into automatic mode and you’ll start reading as soon as you pour that coffee.

  • Ask some members when they take time to learn during the day and how that habit started. Share those learning testimonials frequently.
  • Include learning tips in your newsletters, for example, suggest opportune moments for learning throughout a typical member’s day.
  • Create a webpage and an opt-in 10-day email series dedicated to developing a learning habit. Every day, send one tip and action step. You could even use a widget in your LMS to feature a Learning Tip of the Day.

Encourage Accountability

It’s easier to stick to a habit when someone’s holding you accountable. If a trainer or friend is expecting you at the gym, you make a point of getting there. How can you hold members accountable for learning?

Help Members Track Their Progress

The success of Fitbit and other fitness trackers is partly due to their ability to track performance and measure even the smallest accomplishments. Making progress is motivating—we see how far we’ve come and we’re pumped to get those 10,000 steps.

How can you help members track their learning progress? Give them the ability to see their history of learning activities and progress toward completing certifications or digital badges. Allow them to mark their interest in future activities so they have something to pursue.

accountability strengthens the learning habit

Leverage Social Norms

Author and marketing mastermind Seth Godin says there isn’t a more powerful “tribal” marketing message than: “People like us do stuff like this.” We’re conditioned to conform to social norms and adhere to social expectations. How can you cultivate a membership culture where lifelong learning becomes a social norm or expectation?

  • Shine a light on the learning behavior and activities of influencers in your community.
  • Make learning part of your membership culture with a permanent learning marketing campaign.

Tickle Their Ego

Encourage new learning habits by appealing to a member’s self-image and sense of mastery. Address them as the type of forward-thinking person who stays on the cutting edge. Use language like: “Professionals like you…” or “As an industry insider…”

Mastery brings inner satisfaction. It’s a strong intrinsic motivator. Self-esteem increases alongside mastery, especially if others in the community notice accomplishments. You can even leverage this principle with members who aren’t habitual learners. They’ll want to live up to the expectations that come along with the social identity you’ve bestowed on them.

Your membership culture must reward and reinforce learning habits through your words and actions. If not, the habit won’t stick, unless a member is already driven to learn. Make it an expectation that your volunteer leaders and staff will model the behavior you want to encourage. Relay the message of Seth Godin in everything your organization says and does: people like us do stuff like this.

If you want to learn more about “doing stuff like this,” check out other posts on our blog for online education tips, or contact us—we love sharing our ideas about learning.

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