Using Affective Behaviors to Learn

The affective mode uses the power of feelings and emotions to engage and reinforce learning. Bloom's Taxonomy noted the importance of it by including it in the three learning domains, with the other two being the cognitive and psychomotor domains.

Getting someone to change their affective behavior is one of the hardest tasks to accomplish with instructional design as the training often threatens the learners' self-image. Thus, it becomes important to affirm the learner's core values, such as moral, social, family, political, etc. Learners who attend training in which their beliefs or values are supported are much more likely to "let down their guard" and accept the learning points.

Empty Head

If you confront the learners with learning points that suggests they may have acted in a foolish or in a dangerous manner, they often become resistant to change. No one wants to be told that they did something stupid. Thus, it is important to remind them of their "goodness" in order to make the various learning points easier to digest. The learning will not be so threatening because thinking about an important value will have affirmed each learner's image of him or herself as a smart and capable person. This also points out the invalid concept of a learner as an empty vessel. You have to "draw" them into the learning, not simply "pour" the learning into them.

Why is safety so hard to train?

(NOTE: The following example uses safety, but this method works with a wide variety of affective behaviors.)

Unlike a lot of other tasks, it is often easier or faster to do something the unsafe way, rather than the safe way. For example, if I run out of charcoal lighter, it is much easier and quicker to use the can of gasoline in the garage than drive two miles to the nearest gas station; it is much faster to cross in the middle of the street than walk to the corner-crosswalk; it is faster and easier to jump on a piece of equipment and start operating than to perform some checks beforehand.

Getting someone to act safely requires that they not only gain the required knowledge and skills, but that they also change their attitude (affective domain). Otherwise, they will know how to act, but will not do so as their self-systems kick in and convince them to do it the fast and easy way.

We all perform calculated risks (which in reality are unsafe acts to various degrees), i.e., I might never use gasoline to start a barbecue (unless I was starving and had no means to get fluid), but I might cross the street outside of the crosswalk if it was not busy.

This is why organizations have safety class after safety class - they never getting around to changing the attitudes of the learners. They hope that drilling the same old knowledge and skills into the learners with various methods will eventually pay off and produce safe learners. However safety requires that we know the rules (knowledge), know how to act (skills), and have a proper attitude for it (affective).

One Solution

A learning program might go something like this (I am keeping this simple so that you can add, remove, or adjust the steps for other behaviors):


Sort of like "cheerleading"

Note that changing affective behaviors is generally not a one shot activity. But, going to the core of the matter is better than repeating the same old skills and knowledge that they already understand. Building a wide variety of these "cheerleading" activities will give you the three required building blocks of learning difficult behaviors:

Next Steps

Further readings on the Affective domain:

Learning Essays: