On educating users

March 20, 2007

In a context that's not important, someone on our local sysadmin mailing list recently wrote:

I think the bottom line is end-user education.

I disagree. It is my opinion that any time end-user education appears to be the answer, we have already lost. People do not change their behavior just because we want them to, and they rarely really change their behavior because we threaten them. (Although they are very good at faking it until we are just enough out of sight.)

The only time people really change their behavior is when the new behavior is less work than the old behavior. The only time they like changing their behavior is when you show them a better and easier way to do things; when you make their life better. This is the only time 'user education' really works.

(While you can get people to change by cranking up the pain level on the old way instead of cranking down the pain level on the new way, they are not going to like you.)

One corollary of this is that if you absolutely have to get people to change their behavior, you have to give them no choice. I don't mean 'no choice' as in ordering them to do it on pain of being fired; I mean making it impossible for them to do things any other way than your way. (And then you should be prepared for people's ingenuity.)

Also, it is not enough for the new way to be just as easy as the old way and also superior in some indirect way (such as being less work for other people). To truly get adopted, it must be directly easier and better for the people who have to change; otherwise, inertia will keep a lot of people using the old way.

Written on 20 March 2007.
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Last modified: Tue Mar 20 22:44:26 2007
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