Monday, November 25, 2013

The Paradox of Choice - implications for learning


Barry Schwartz's TED talk on the paradox of choice is a good few years old now. It's a very succinct summary of his book of the same name. You can also read a pdf summary of the book here. Choice in learning is something that many instructional designers love to hate and hate to love. Often associated with control, increasingly learners in all contexts are demanding more control and more choice over their learning - both how and what.

So does Schwartz's argument have any implications for handing over control to the learner in the design of solutions? I would argue firstly the argument for decreasing or incresing choice needs to be balanced. Stephen Dubner, of Freakonomics fame, argues against Schwartz's ideas, like most good economists. His main point is that there needs to be a distinction between choice and complexity. And therein I believe the value lies for instructional design. Designing for sophisticated simplicity, allowing choice to remain while shaving away unnecessary complexity is the real value of the learning design process. Doing that with finesse I don't believe will ever be automated. Even with the fantastic gains we're seeing in intelligent algorithms for data processing, it will remain extremely hard to remove the human aspect of excellence. So even though the role of the instructional designer is definitely changing, and the needs of the audience are changing too, there should always be a place for great learning design, and the humans to help make that happen.