Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Choices - Too Many Does Not Help Anyone

What is the point of choices if they do not work for you?

This is the new tagline for the latest commercial of Monster India, a online job search site. The ads are funny and the message is really strong. Whenever I view this ad, I am reminded of how true this is in the learning arena also. 

Do we give our learner too much of content and expect them to choose what will suit them? I remember Geeta telling me that a client wanted a compliance training program that can cater to everyone in the organization. During my early years, Geeta drilled it into my head (and I am so glad for that) that we cannot have a single solution for EVERYONE. Compliance (for example) means different things for different people. For some, say the security staff, it may mean application-based knowledge while it may mean good to know information for certain roles.  

Learning paths can also be confused as categorization of content. Content chunking as individual/independent topics is very different from learning paths. Learning paths are customized based on rationale such as age, role, gender, need, and so on. But giving learners access to different topics and expecting them to pick out what ever they want may become a case of giving them too many choices. 

How about features on the interface of an eLearning application? Do we add unnecessary features for the learners to use? Do we even stop to think whether it adds real value to the course and whether people truly use these features? We automatically include features that we think must be included such as audio, mute, transcripts, glossary, references, etc. 

The bottom line is the more unnecessary choices you give to the learner, the more confused he is going to be. He will not be able to figure out to do with them. Will leave you to think about this with this piece from The Paradox of Choice - Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz

About six years ago, I went to the GAP to buy a pair of jeans. I tend to wear my jeans until they're falling apart, so it had been quite a while since my last purchase. A nice young salesperson walked up to me and asked if she could help. 
"I want a pair of jeans - 32-28," I said
"Do you want them slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit, baggy, or extra baggy?" she replied."Do you want them stone washed, acid-washed, or distressed? Do you want them button-fly or zipper-fly? Do you want them faded or regular?"
I was stunned. A moment or two later I spluttered out something like, "I just want regular jeans. You know, the kind that used to be the only kind." I turned out she didn't know, but after consulting one of her older colleagues, she was able to figure out what "regular" jeans used to be, and she pointed me in the right direction. 
The jeans I chose turned out fine, but it occurred to me that day that buying a pair of pants should not be a daylong project. By creating all these options, the store undoubtedly had done a favor for customers with varied tastes and body types. However, by vastly expanding the range of choices, they had also created a new problem that needed to be solved. Before these options were available,, a buyer like myself had to settle for an imperfect fit, but at least purchasing jeans was a five-minute affair. Now it was a complex decision in which I was forced to invest time, energy, and no small amount of self-doubt, anxiety, and dread.