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8 Lessons from My Fitbit that are Transferable to L&D Initiatives


I received a Fitbit last Christmas and I love it for two reasons:

1) With heightened awareness of how sedentary my life had become, wearing the Fitbit has helped me realize I need to move more.

2) Thinking about everything that goes into the Fitbit has spawned a bunch of thoughts about behavior change, which is what learning and development is all about.

Following are 8 lessons that transfer quite well into the world of learning and development.

Fitbit1. Technology is only a good solution if the end user finds it easy to use. I received a Fitbit last Christmas, but I didn’t begin using it regularly until early May when I got a new iPhone. My old (pre-Siri) iPhone 4 operating system didn’t support the Fitbit app, and  if I couldn’t look at my stats right away, well then why put in any extra effort to move more, right?

Lesson for L&D initiatives: How many really cool elearning programs or other technology-based solutions have been created only to find that people just aren’t using or adopting the solutions? People are busy and accessing L&D solutions shouldn’t be an additional burden to people’s daily routine. Recently my organization made a switch to our LMS whereby staff members no longer have to send a request to L&D in order to be approved to take an online course. People can simply click a button and they’re automatically enrolled in the course. One extra step was eliminated and we’ve seen an uptick in the number of people signing up for and taking courses.

2. Data can be motivating… The Fitbit comes with a default goal of 10,000 steps per day, yet when I first began wearing the device I realized that I was only walking about 3,000 steps per day. Just being able to see the number of steps I’ve taken throughout the day has motivated me to try to see how high I can drive that number. Now I (generally) take the stairs at work instead of the elevator and I make sure to escape the office for a few minutes in order to move. On days that I don’t get out for a run, getting my step count up requires a little more creativity, and I would never have cared about any of this if I didn’t have access to that number, every day.

Lesson for L&D initiatives: Let people know how they’re doing. Have an online community? Take a page out of the Articulate online community’s playbook and publish the number of interactions people have online. Scott Enebo of the Bob Pike Group used PollEverywhere to track in-person participation and rewarded participants who had the most correct answers with small prizes at the end of a 2-day workshop.

3. …as long as you can do something about it. The Fitbit can track things beyond steps. One of the things I found interesting initially was the sleep tracker. It let me know how long I slept each night, how long it took me to fall asleep and how many bouts of restlessness I may have on any given night. I tracked this for a while and realized the results were pretty consistent… yet it didn’t really give me data on how to reduce the number of bouts of restlessness each night. I’ve stopped using this feature.

Lesson for L&D initiatives: More data isn’t necessarily better. In fact, sometimes data can be distracting – it can be time consuming (and a poor use of time to collect) without yielding much in the way of actionable measures to be taken. If you’re going to provide data to your learners (or if you’re going to require that your learners take time out of their schedules to provide you with some data), make sure it’s information that will be useful and actionable.

4. Sometimes big numbers don’t mean that much… I could walk 10,000 or 12,000 or 20,000 steps in a day, but what does that really mean? Actually, I’ve found that my step count increases sometimes when I clap. The number of steps alone doesn’t tell the whole story. Fitbit also provides a data point called “Active Minutes” which tracks how many minutes you spend engaged in more vigorous activity (faster paced walking, running, etc). If this number reads “0” at the end of the day, my overall step count isn’t very valuable.

Lessons for L&D initiatives: Is a 4.2 average post-training evaluation score (on a 5-point scale) much different than a 4.4? We recently added a Net Promoter Score to our post-training evaluations and discovered that there is a big difference between a 4.2 and a 4.4. It’s important to track the right numbers.

5. …and sometimes you need more than one source of data. When I got my new iPhone, I noticed that the Health app that came with the phone also tracked my steps. I found that the Fitbit is a little more stingy than Apple’s Health app, wherein Fitbit may tell me that my morning run was 5,500 steps, the Health app will pad my ego by telling me it was actually 6,200 steps. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

Lessons for L&D initiatives: Sometimes L&D teams are approached to help with a learning solution because a client has identified one problem. Poking around and getting a second (and third) opinion from other stakeholders (perhaps frontline staff or middle management) may help to identify whether or not the solution requested will actually solve the problem.

6. Where two or more are gathered… Another feature of the Fitbit is that I can compare my daily and weekly step count with friends (if you have a Fitbit and want to connect and compare our step counts, shoot me a message!). On days that I’m feeling lazy, it helps to get me moving when I check out how many steps my friends have been taking.

Lessons for L&D initiatives: There are two aspects to this feature: competition and supportive relationships. Publishing leader boards for online or in-class sessions could be motivating if you have the right mix of students who respond well to some friendly competition. If you have groups of learners who appreciate knowing they’re not alone in trying a new behavior or skill, finding ways for people to work together may provide additional support outside of the formal learning environment.

7. …though it’s easy to cheat. During weeks when my friends’ step counts are high and I’m just too busy at work to go for a run or get out for a walk, I’ve been very tempted to just put my Fitbit on one of my kids and quickly rack up 25,000 steps in a day. I’ve resisted this temptation. So far.

Lessons for L&D initiatives: When L&D or HR departments require people to sit through mandatory compliance training or when presenters lecture at their audience, it’s easy to cheat. In-person audiences can spend the session checking emails. Online audiences can find themselves clicking through slide after slide to get to the end and download their certificate. Engaging design reduces the temptation to cheat.

8. You can never rest on your laurels. Perhaps one of the most motivating features about my Fitbit is that I can have a day whereby I walk 20,000 steps (doubling my goal) or a day in which I walk 2,000 steps (missing my goal by far), but when I wake up the next morning, my step count is at 0 again. A new day, another opportunity to reach that goal. And this never stops.

Lessons for L&D initiatives: A learner showing mastery in the classroom is a good sign, but it can’t be the end of the story. For L&D teams to be successful, they need to ensure skills transfer back into the routine of the job. How can L&D teams design learning experiences that help people learn and keep them performing at a high level tomorrow, and the next day, and the next week, and the next month?

Have you transferred any lessons from your fitness tracker to the world of learning and development? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

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