We have to admit that winning is pretty fun. When the winning shot is played or the deal is closed or the board game ends in triumph, it’s good to be the winner. You might say we all like #winning.
But as much as we love to win, even more powerfully, we hate to lose. Science tells us that the mere thought of losing $20 is much stronger than the happiness we experience in gaining $20. If I notice that you dropped a twenty in the parking lot, you will have more extreme feelings than if I said we could earn that same 20 bucks filling out a survey at the mall.
I’ve been fortunate to work recently with Ph.D. researcher and learning consultant for Saba Studio Charlotte Hills. She tells us that research into loss aversion predicts that you’ll feel a loss about twice as strongly as you’ll feel a gain.
Did you know we can take these truths about emotion and loss aversion to boost workplace learning? Using techniques and insights Hills has gleaned from neuroscience, we can incentivize learning, development and performance. The best way to do this is to keep the way people think and feel at the center of your learning strategy. Consider creating personalized challenges or objectives that line up with their own goals — and the company’s, too.
What’s Going On Inside Our Heads
Neuroscience has discovered the emotion of loss is more powerful than that of gain. So how do we turn something as “messy” as emotion into a learning incentive for employees? “Research has shown that feeling something on an emotional level assists the learner in remembering the situation,” Hills notes. “We all respond to something, whether it’s joy in achieving something or a competitive urge to keep up with our peers.” It turns out, as learning leaders, we can use the power of neuroscience to increase learning participation, adoption and engagement.
I found it fascinating to learn from Hills that as we walk around, being human, we’re constantly bombarded with information and we can’t retain it all, so our brains need to figure out what to screen out and what to remember. “When we experience an event that triggers a strong emotion such as fear, our emotional centers, or limbic system, are activated,” Hills says. “That event becomes marked as an important one and is allowed to pass into our long-term memory.” Basically, neuroscience shows us that we remember things that make us feel something. Often (but not always), that emotional event stays with us for a long time.
The Role of Emotion in Learning
Try to remember a lesson you learned at some point and whether it was a good feeling or a bad one once the lesson was over. If you can remember this experience, the role of emotion in learning is on display. It turns out that emotion helps motivate learners and sticks information into long-term memory. We are drawn to experiences that allow us to feel things (think horror movies and tear-soaked romance films). When we feel sad, angry or fearful, we tuck those emotive experiences away for later.
When it comes to applying these insights to emotions, Hills and Simon Rupniak, head of learning design at Saba Studio, recommend three things to try:
- Seek out emotive content. Craft emotive themes in your content and messaging to engage your employees and make the learning memorable. If you’re looking for learning content, or writing it from scratch, think about whether it is rich in emotion. Strive for messaging that will stay with your learners. This is not only the substance of the content, but also the way it’s said or presented.
- Use negative emotions. Joy is obviously a powerful emotion, but negative emotions help us learn, too. Use them wisely!
- Don’t overdo it. Make sure not to push emotional content too much. Overuse of emotion can dilute what you want people to learn.
Using Loss Aversion in Learning
The fear of losing something can be an incentive to learners; so too can the fear of missing out. Since we strongly feel losses more so than gain, one method is to have learners focus on what they have already. If people know they might lose something they’ve worked hard to gain, it gives them more of a drive to avoid it.
While this might sound a tad rough, using loss aversion doesn’t have to be negative. Some companies gamify learning by awarding points at the start of an assessment or test. Employees start off with points they can lose by failing to answer correctly. According to loss aversion theory, most people don’t want to lose their big bank of points. This method helps increase markers such as compliance completion while also building a culture of learning and development.
Hills and Rupniak recommend these three tips on loss aversion:
- Use risk and loss. Consider what people stand to miss out on if they don’t learn or adapt. Create or commission learning games that have consequences. Don’t make everything easy. To make a win valuable, there has to be some chance you’ll lose.
- It’s all about me. The effect is greater when something personally valuable is under threat. We value “my time” more than “company time.” Think reputation, kudos, money, time and effort — the effect is greater when something that is personally valuable to you is under threat. Make sure people see what they stand to lose in the wording that you use.
- Have courage. Fear of losing time or reputation can hold people back. Be brave and jump in! Don’t be held back by your own loss aversion.
What’s In it For Me?
When we consider emotion and loss aversion as parts of our overall learning strategy, keep in mind this simple but important question: What’s in it for me? We all just really want a connection to the tasks we perform at work.
In today’s modern work world, employees desire a meaningful learning experience that caters to their personal and professional goals. Learning can’t just look nice or be an endless scroll of classes that overwhelm. To engage learners, develop critical skills and improve employee and business performance, organizations must think of the whole learner and consider new ways to reach their people. Using emotion and loss aversion techniques help enable purposeful learning.
It’s All About Feelings
If you’ve never applied behavioral science principles to learning strategies, now is the perfect time. As learning leaders, we can leverage the power of neuroscience to improve learning uptake, adoption and engagement. Start small: Remember to keep the way people think and feel at the forefront of your strategy. Build challenges that help bolster skills and align with their goals and the company’s goals all the while resonating with the employee’s unique skill sets and personality. Before you know it, using emotion and loss aversion techniques will be a part of your efforts to drive learner engagement and optimize learning.
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