Training for Attitude Change

Several decades ago, my first paid instructional design gig involved training community activists in India to train villagers on contraceptive techniques. I had no difficulty imparting the relevant skills and knowledge. The real challenge was to help the trainers achieve a simple and important attitude change. My affective objective was to encourage the trainers to use direct, nontechnical language to discuss reproductive functions to prevent such unanticipated outcomes as this complaint from a villager: “I don’t believe anything you say anymore. I had this condom thing unrolled over my thumb just as you demonstrated, but my wife still got pregnant!”

My training program ended up as a systematic-desensitization therapy intervention. The volunteer trainers used plain folksy language (already in their repertoire) in preference to incomprehensible jargon and convoluted metaphors. The villagers understood what they were supposed to do and practiced their new skills.

I learned a valuable lesson from this tragicomical experience: It does not matter what skills and knowledge I want teach. All performance requires achieving appropriate affective objectives. Sometimes, the affective component influences 90 percent of the performance (as in contraceptive techniques) and sometimes it accounts for 10 percent (as in the case of drawing a Gannt chart). In both cases, I learned to conduct an affect analysis before getting engrossed in my task analysis. I also learned to apply research-based principles from persuasion and motivation in addition to instructional principles from cognitive sciences.

Training in the Affective Domain

My interest in affective training was recently revived when I began conducting workshops on positive psychology and emotional intelligence. I realized that most soft-skills topics (such as trust-building, teamwork, and diversity and inclusion) have significant affective components. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that every one of my training topics have affective elements. Even such technical topics as calculating the return on investment can benefit from affective objectives such as valuing the accuracy in estimating monetary benefits of potential results.

Here are the mistakes I have been making in my instructional design activities related to the affective domain:

  1. Ignore the affective elements (probably because I have been conditioned to feel guilty about using words like appreciate and value).
  2. Rationalize my lapses by telling myself that I always keep the affective elements in the back of my mind anyhow.
  3. Specify affective objectives only as an afterthought when the design is completed.
  4. Repeatedly remind myself that the client does not care about the affective outcomes.
  5. Delude myself into thinking that if my learners master the cognitive competencies, they will automatically fall in love with the affective components.

I am sure that I am the only one who has been making these mistakes. To straighten up myself, I now follow this self-imposed guideline:

Specify the affective objectives for an instructional design project before specifying the cognitive objectives.

It does not matter if there is a significant affective component (such increasing awareness of emotions) or a minor one (as in the case of coming up with alternative solutions to a problem). I always begin by specifying a set of affective objectives.

Unfortunately, my sophisticated skills related to specifying cognitive objectives do not transfer to the affective domain. The type of analysis that generates affective objectives is different from the task analysis and content analysis used for specifying cognitive objectives. You need to perform a goal analysis or an affect analysis develop affective objectives.

I strongly recommend Robert Mager's Goal Analysis: How To Clarify Your Goals So You Can Actually Achieve Them as an excellent guide for developing affective objectives.

A Sample Set of Affective Objectives

Recently, I designed a training program on benefiting from feedback from others. This is what I did first in my instructional design activity. (I did cheat, however, by adding, deleting, and modifying these objectives during and after the design to make it look like I am logical, consistent, and coherent.)

Here’s my list of 18 affective objectives for benefiting from feedback:

  1. The participant shows an increase in the score on a Likert-type scale after the training session (on benefiting from feedback) in comparison with the score before the training session.
  2. The participant keeps a log that tracks the number and type of feedback received.
  3. The participant records details of every piece of feedback received (including the feedback giver, key points of feedback, personal reactions, and action plans).
  4. The participant invests time to reflect and analyze the feedback received and to plan suitable action steps.
  5. The participant sends spontaneous thank-you notes to those who provided feedback and includes comments about the positive impact of the feedback.
  6. The participant’s log indicates an increase in the number of pieces of feedback received
  7. Following the training session, the participant asks for feedback from a variety of associates in a clear and specific manner.
  8. The participant solicits and receives feedback from a wide variety of people: supervisors, colleagues, subordinates, customers, and strangers.
  9. The participant does not interrupt, make defensive statements, or debate when given feedback.
  10. When confronted with unclear feedback, the participant probes for clarification and examples in an open-minded fashion.
  11. The participant immediately thanks the feedback giver and commits himself or herself to analyzing the feedback and implementing appropriate behavior changes based on it.
  12. When asked to list and classify characteristics of feedback received, the participant specifies more positive characteristics than neutral and negative items.
  13. When asked to list and classify typical feelings aroused by feedback received, the participant identifies more positive feelings than neutral and negative ones.
  14. When asked to list and classify recent experiences with feedback received a week after the training session, the participant recalls more positive experiences than neutral or negative ones.
  15. When asked for the possible motivation behind negative feedback presented in a scenario, the participant attributes positive intent to the feedback giver.
  16. In an interview a week after the training session, the participant spontaneously comments on the positive impact of feedback received.
  17. In an interview a week after the training session, the participant is able to recall at least five useful pieces of feedback received.
  18. In an interview a week after the training session, people who gave feedback to the participant indicate that their comments were welcomed and received with an open mind.

About these Objectives

How did I come up with these objectives? I sat in a corner and imagined the behaviors of highly excited and motivated participants with a positive attitude toward flourishing from feedback. I talked to my friends about this topic. In both of these activities, I followed the sage advice from Robert Mager in his book, Goal Analysis.

Here are some comments about these objectives:

  • Each objective in this list specifies an indicator of achieving some aspect of the overall affective goal.
  • None of these objectives is an absolutely necessary indicator of having achieved the goal.
  • There are probably many more valid indicators associated with the same affective goal
  • These objectives are somewhat independent of each other. They are not hierarchical or sequential.
  • These objectives are different from the list of cognitive objectives.
  • These objectives identify indicators of positive values, attitudes, and opinions.
  • I do not share these objectives with the training participants because I have this superstitious notion that if you tell people that you are going to influence them, they become immediately resistive.

Achieving Affective Objectives

The next step after specifying affective objectives is to design your training program to achieve them. Obviously your attitudinal strategies have to integrated with the cognitive training material. However, the principles for attitude change are different from the principles for cognitive instructional design. You need to retrieve and implement principles of persuasion and motivation to go beyond requiring the learners to merely recall and repeat the advantages of achieving the cognitive objectives.