In one of the better known fairy tales, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks quickly makes key decisions when presented with three choices of what to eat, where to sit, and where to sleep. In a modern day re-telling I can’t imagine that Goldilocks would face so few options. As consumers, we are now overwhelmed with the choices on offer. Today Goldilocks might have to choose not only from the temperature of her oats, but whether she has them with water, milk, soya or almond milk, let alone whether she has rolled, organic, or instant oats. What would she choose? I imagine that the three bears would have walked home to find a girl wracked with indecision. Choice overload is a significant problem in the modern world. Only now is the consumer industry, partnered with technology, understanding how to harness this to influence purchasing decisions. It’s time organisations take this behavioural insight and apply it to how learning curation is done in the workplace.
In Curation: The power of selection in a modern day world, Michael Bhaskar highlights the behavioural consequences of option overload and how curation can overcome this challenge. One example where option overload negatively impacts a business doesn’t involve porridge, but does include some jam. A study conducted by Sheena Iyengar challenged the idea that choice could be anything but positive. She conducted a consumer experiment in a San Francisco supermarket. Two sample tastings were set up. One sample table offered a taste from twenty-four different jams, and another sample table had six jams to choose from. The result? Purchasing behaviour was altered dramatically across the two tastings. Whilst the wider range of jam samples attracted more people, a staggering 30% of customers who sampled the six jams went on to buy one of them, whereas that figure plunged to 3% for those who sampled some of the twenty-four jams on offer. This is just one of the many examples that Bhaskar uses to highlight how choice can create a decision paralysis.
There have been further studies carried out about how we make choices, and even on how the behaviours around choice alter depending on your culture and society. However, Bhaskar explains that fundamentally every choice is an opportunity cost, and the greater the options the greater the opportunity cost. When faced with making the correct decision, we face loss aversion, fearing what we didn’t choose. When we increase choice, we increase the risk of loss. Therefore the result of being faced with too many options is to do nothing.
In the same way that businesses should limit and refine the options they offer to customers, employers need to think carefully about the learning they offer to employees. When faced with an endless mass of courses available on a company’s learning management system, this will inhibit learning as loss aversion kicks in thanks to the risk of choosing the wrong courses and wasting precious working time.
So how can learning managers address this issue? Well, consumer-facing businesses have been adapting their approach to deal with the challenge of how to streamline choices whilst preserving variety. Bhaskar argues that the answer is to be found through curation. He explores the different strategies you can employ to curate successfully, and suggests there are many ways that an organisation can curate their learning by arranging the space and categorising effectively to increase a person’s ability to choose. Guided content, for example, such as learning pathways, can be one solution to incorporate into your LMS strategy.
One of the dominant themes that comes out of his study is the importance of trust and establishing creditability. Establishing trust is crucial otherwise consumers and learners may suspect that better options exist outside of the curated content. Microsoft has introduced its own filters to curate the daily grind of emails and uses algorithms to organise unread mail, or constantly delete unimportant mail into the Clutter folder. The success of this tool relies upon its accuracy to correctly move the right emails into the Clutter folder which over time means the user trusts Microsoft’s ability to organise their Outlook.
Trust can also be created by specialist curators, content producers, or even the content consumers themselves. Bhaskar discusses the power of the trusted curator, giving the example of XL recordings. The UK record label, who signed Adele, have a notoriously stringent vetting process for new acts and on average only release six albums a year. Imagine if learning content was as carefully selected and approved in the same way. Conversely, allowing the employees to generate their own content and share their feedback amongst themselves provides a crew of trusted internal curators. You only need to look at Facebook’s ‘Like’ effect to see how popular peer promoted content can be.
These are just a handful of strategies to consider when reviewing the impact that choice is having on your learners. Having too much or not enough choice is no longer a black and white problem, in today’s society, the behavioural insights surrounding choice need to be leveraged to reduce the complexity that choice presents and provide a solution to allow decisions to be made effectively.
Now if Goldilocks had the option of having jam on her porridge…