The feeling we’re chasing, the feeling that turns us on here at Circles Global Enterprises, is the feeling when someone gets excited by learning.

Learning rarely happens quickly or the way we want it to. There are several reasons for this. Sometimes we mistake passively imbibing and understanding information for actually actively learning it. When we do this, and the test comes or the business challenge arises, we’re frustrated because the skills and knowledge we invested so much time and money in didn’t end up actually helping us. Sometimes we go through weeks of practice or a class and we can’t always tell if we’ve gotten better at something. When this happens we’re annoyed at the course, the instructors, and ourselves.

We’re change-averse. Change is creepy to most grown-ups. And we’re so beaten down by failed school or training that we don’t trust the outcomes. The math is too crazy to contemplate: if I got 10% better at my job, would I make 10% more money? Nah. And there’s so much to learn, boy, where would one begin?

As a result, it is super-hard to get someone to make and keep a commitment to a learning program. And super-hard to get them to stick to it. Almost every program I’ve been involved with begins with a certain amount of whining and drop-off.

The bad news is that this is a big challenge for Circles. The good news is that solving this problem – igniting learners and keeping them lit up – is aligned with our mission and business model.

So I’ve collected a number of principles that will help design ignition into our experience.

  • Dan Coyle’s definition of Ignition. If you see someone like you, that achieves something you dream of, you believe you can do it. The year Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile, 11 others did. Implication: Stare at who you want to become.
  • The Heath brothers’ metaphor in Switch. To change or do something, visualize three things: the Elephant (which represents our emotional selves), the rider (our rational selves), and the path (how easy and convenient it is to change or do something. My brain might understand that I should workout, but if “morning guy” isn’t game, and the gym is across town.
  • StickK’s commitment contracts: Declaring it out loud, having fans, having referees, and negative consequences helps. (The most popular negative consequence on the Stickk website is that the remainder of your membership fees will be donated to the George Bush Memorial Library, etc.)
  • Peer pressure! Jelling
  • Buyer’s remorse is real, like post-coitus. After-clicking is the most sensitive time.
  • “This is not my highest priority.” Managers are often the #1 obstacle to ignition.
  • Tim Ferris analyzes a learning journey for the points where most people quit. Understand these, and compensate. At WIBO, a 16-week business course for entrepreneurs, we know that the finance module is that point and have mentors make personal calls to all the learners that week.
  • Related, Design for some early wins.
  • Sponsors – like AA. Have someone, a single individual, there for each person.
  • Find each person’s “why?” The teachers I speak to note this as the key teaching skill
  • Speaking the value out loud frequently will reinforce it
  • Skin-in-the-game

And a more nuts and bolts view of how we might apply these ideas:

  • Build a branded community of learning samurai
  • Make the path easier: match people up front that have the same availability
  • Focus guides on finding each learner’s motivation and retaining them
  • Measure meeting satisfaction, attendance, lateness
  • Emails begin from moment of match (and before/after commit)
  • Identify a peer from another circle, put them in touch. Part of the contract going in.
  • Use social media to identify other friends in Circles
  • Begin to drop in things relevant to the learner’s stated interests
  • The path: have the tech be dead easy to use
  • The path: make it easy to get reimbursed by your company
  • Continually drip encouraging messages in the Meta program
  • Invite the learner to quit after the first meeting – take the pressure redoubles the commitment
  • Keep sending drops reminding the learner of their goals
  • Show a progress dashboard
  • Variable rewards along the way

Share your comments and feedback over on  this blog post.

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