A Quick Guide To Attitudinal Training

If you’re involved in creating a course with the explicit or subtle goal of changing an attitude, you might be wondering how to go about doing this. Attitudinal training is one of those under discussed topics, because most of us are focused on intellectual skills.

Attitude Defined

In his classic book, The Conditions of Learning, Robert Gagne, defines attitude as “a mental state that predisposes a learner to choose to behave in a certain way.” Attitudinal goals, therefore, are those that ask a learner to choose to do something under certain circumstances. The intent of attitudinal training is to influence or convince a person to make a decision in the desired direction. It may involve changing attitudes as well as associated values and beliefs.

Like what?

Some explicit examples of attitudinal training are: to encourage employees to quit smoking, to promote the use of conflict resolution techniques or to convince employees to recycle in the workplace.

Indirect attitudinal training is more subtle and is often an undercurrent in a course with a completely different learning goal. For example, a course teaching how to use a new software system might highlight the advantages of the new application. Although the course goal is software training, influencing users to have positive feelings about the new system is a secondary one.

Instructional Strategies You Can Use

You can change attitudes with facts, numbers and statistics and you can also use a visceral approach to reach people on an affective level. Here are a variety of instructional strategies you can try for attitudinal training.

Behavior Modeling. In this approach, a person models the desired behavior to show how effective it is or how easily it can be achieved. In a course to encourage employees to use conflict resolution skills, for example, you might create a video comparing two ways of managing an angry customer. The first confrontation ends poorly; the second is defused through the use of conflict resolution techniques. The attitudinal component is the underlying message that the skills are effective and easy to learn.

Role Play/Simulation. Role plays help learners understand the results of various choices in simulated scenarios. To enhance realism, the scenarios should branch through alternate paths depending on the learner’s decisions. In this way, learners discover how specific behaviors and actions can result in different consequences.

Creating Cognitive Dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a tension that occurs from holding conflicting or inconsistent beliefs. People are compelled to reduce this dissonance by changing a belief. An example of cognitive dissonance occurs in people who eat an unhealthy diet associated with disease, yet these same people want to live a long healthy life. If you can find ways to create and emphasize cognitive dissonance in your training, you can motivate people to change.

Showing Results of Risky Behavior. There are often, but not always, risks associated with failure to choose a desired behavior. This is the case when attitudinal training relates to safety and health. Persuasion through emotional imagery or deeply moving stories can be effective. For example, I conducted a video interview with a patient who suffered from a hospital-acquired infection in order to motivate healthcare workers to improve their hand sanitation practices. Emotional impact can change attitudes.

Telling Stories. Storytelling is a strategy that appeals directly to the emotions. Stories are known to evoke emotions, which forms a connection between the message and the audience. In particular, when audience members see themselves in a story, the message becomes more meaningful. To discover why  storytelling is a valuable strategy, see Why You Need To Use Storytelling For Learning.

Appealing to the Intellect. On the other hand, some adults are persuaded to change an attitude when they are given solid facts. For example, when persuading employees to recycle at work, provide convincing arguments through statistics that show how a cleaner environment creates benefits for employees and their families. Always try to present statistics in a visual format to make them more appealing.

Being Subtle. Some forms of attitudinal training are purposefully indirect. They may not be a critical goal of a course, but are still important. In these situations, integrate the attitudinal training with other content. You can do this by pointing out or portraying the benefits change in a subdued way. For example, the person who stopped smoking looks energetic or the tone describing an organizational change is upbeat, but not overly enthusiastic.

Changing attitudes can take time and may require multiple points of contact, reminders and the occasional motivational push. But it also lends itself to many creative approaches.

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Related Articles:
Emotions and Learning: Part I
Emotions and Learning: Part II
Emotions and Learning: Part III

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  1. Cheryl McNeil says

    Great article! I use Behavior Modeling and Role Play/Simulations the most. They seem to make more a internal connection with the learner and keep them engaged. I base my I.D. on a combination of Maslows Hierarchy of Needs and Gagne’s Nine Events.

  2. John McLeod says

    Great article! One question that comes up for me is the whole area of assessing attitudinal learning outcomes. Often the desired behaviour may not be demonstrated in a timeframe that works for us as instructors. Yet, assessing the outcome would give us valuable information on the effectiveness of the instructional approach we use. Any suggestions?

  3. Connie Malamed says

    Great question, John. Research points to the fact that it can take time for attitudes to change, so that is a problem for instructors. I’d consider making a plan to assess at different intervals … perhaps even up to six-months or a year. So that you’re not bothering the participants too frequently, consider getting responses from managers and supervisors, and from observations, as well as participant questionnaires.

    Perhaps you can explain to participants that they will be receiving two questionnaires, one after training and one a few months later. By outlining your expectations, they won’t be surprised. Another idea is to have follow-up discussions through social media, which might give you a sense of the effects of training.



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