Taking a New Direction: Behavioral Interventions in Higher Education supported by Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior
Conference contribution, 2010
According to Ajzen , intentions to perform behaviors of various kinds can be predicted on the basis of attitudes towards the behavior, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control. In the light of this theory a several weeks long exercise within six higher education courses was conducted, in order to support the students to take a new direction in their every day lives in terms of carrying out sustainable and self-imposed actions such as decreasing the use of energy in the household and eating lower on the food chain. An online questionnaire was distributed in order to find out how effective this exercise was, what the key operational mechanisms in the exercise were, and if this exercise made an impact on other areas than the one selected for this course. An analysis showed that a majority of the students perceived the exercise inspiring and motivating, supporting change of behavior in the intended, new direction. There were, however, a number of suggestions for improvement, to be seriously considered for future implementation. For example, there seems to be a need for clarifying the relevance of the task for future engineering work life. The two key operational mechanisms identified were the individual’s own attitude towards the specific behaviour and the perception that the task was within their control. A further analysis also showed that half of the students still carried out the sustainable actions after 3 months to up to 2 years and that a considerable part of them had changed their behavior within other areas.
This study shows that this type of behavioral change, within a course curriculum, is very effective, and that formative research, with Ajzen's theoretical framework as a foundation, could be a starting point for this to happen.