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May 2017

Is too much choice bad for your learners?

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Shaping the future of learning

Two days ago, I attended 'The Psychology of Design' - a great workshop run by UX Consultant Joe Leech.  Whilst the focus was on designing commercial websites with psychological principles in mind, there are many takeaways for us in the digital learning space. One of these concerns the notion of choice. And jam; lots of jam.

How jamming in too much choice can spoil your digital learning

Good corporate learning is all about giving learners ownership of their learning, and choice right? Yes and no. Let me explain.

In a study examining the behaviours of shoppers at a grocery store were observed on two consecutive Saturdays. On the first Saturday, shoppers encountered an extensive display of gourmet jams (24 to be precise) and on the second Saturday, only a limited display (6). It may seem unsurprising that the extensive display attracted the most visitors, drawing 60% of the shoppers passing by to the booth. In contrast, the limited display only attracted 40%. But what impact did the initial attractiveness of more choice have on subsequent purchasing behaviour? Now this is the interesting part.

30% of consumers at the limited display went on to purchase a jar of jam, whilst only 3% purchased jam from the extensive display. Thus, consumers initially exposed to limited choices proved far more likely to purchase the product than those who'd encountered a much larger set of options.

The study was repeated in a different context. This time students were given the opportunity to write an optional essay on top of their other work, to receive extra credits. They were given either 6 or 30 potential essay topics. Those presented with a list of 6 were more likely to write the extra essay (74% compared with 60%). Furthermore, the quality of the essays was higher when they picked the topic from the smaller list, suggesting they were more motivated than those given an extensive choice. 

This was further emphasised by a third study, in which participants were asked to choose from either a large or limited array of chocolates. This found that people enjoyed the process of choosing a chocolate from the larger display, but proved more dissatisfied and regretful of the decision they made and were subsequently less likely to choose chocolates rather than money as a reward for taking part in the study.

Interesting enough, right? But what's all this got to do with us? 

More is less when it comes to giving your learners choices

Well, the studies show us that whilst more choice may seem desirable at first, it can have a detrimental impact on our subsequent motivation, satisfaction and performance. Too much choice can lead us to make decisions which are satisfactory rather than optimal – simply to end the process of decision making. It may cause us to disengage altogether. Paralysis by analysis, if you like.

This tells us to be careful when presenting our learners with choice. After all, the last thing we want is a dip in their motivation, satisfaction or performance. From a UX perspective, we need to avoid cluttering our screens with too many features, places to go, or ways to get there. We need to eliminate multiple options in favour of single, clear actions, so learners always know what they need to do. Where multiple options are needed, we need to make them seem simple for our learners. Bells and whistles may have the initial 'wow' factor but if they make it hard to understand the interface, it's only going to lead to frustration.

In this fast-paced world, people want bite-sized learning, instantly accessible information which helps them in the 'now'. Higher numbers and complexity of choices will only take us longer to make decisions and as decision time increases, the user experience suffers.



Shaping the future of learning

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