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. Also known as the affective domain of learning, attitudinal training is one of those lesser discussed topics, because we typically focus on cognitive skills.
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.” Educational psychologists say that attitudes are comprised of affect, behavior and beliefs.
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 persuade a person to make a decision in the desired direction. It may involve changing attitudes as well as associated feelings, values, motivations and beliefs.
Direct and Implicit Attitudinal Training
Direct Attitudinal Training. Some examples of direct attitudinal training are to:
- Encourage employees to participate in a wellness program
- Promote the of use conflict resolution techniques in the workplace
- Adopt a positive attitude when providing customer service
- Persuade employees to recycle at work
- Value the importance of using hand sanitizer after patient contact
Implicit Attitudinal Training. Indirect attitudinal training is more subtle and is often the undertone of 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 to Change Attitudes
You can change attitudes with facts, numbers and statistics. You can also use a visceral approach to reach people on an affective level. Here are seven instructional strategies you can try for attitudinal training.
1. Model Behavior
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 a conflict between two employees. The first confrontation ends with no resolution; the conflict resolution techniques resolve some of the issues. The attitudinal component is the underlying message that the skills are effective and easy to learn.
2. Use Role Plays or Simulations
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.
3. Create Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive dissonance is a tension that occurs from holding conflicting or inconsistent beliefs. People often feel the need 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.
4. Show 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.
5. Tell 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.
6. Appeal 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. See How to Make Numbers Interesting.
7. Use the Subtle Approach
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 of change in a subtle way. For example, the person who stopped smoking looks energetic or the tone of voice 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.