Tip #629: How Knowledge and Confidence Can Curb Learning

“Fortunately for serious minds, a bias recognized is a bias sterilized.” Benjamin Haydon

There is a lot that can interfere with a willingness to learn new things.

Andrea May, VP of Instructional Design Services for Dashe & Thomson, has identified what she considers to be the top ten cognitive biases that adversely affect learning and posted those on the Dashe & Thomson Social Learning Blog.

Let’s look at the next two cognitive biases and discuss how we can counter their effect through our training design and delivery. The titles and descriptions of the biases are Ms. May’s. The commentary is mine.

3.  Dunning-Kruger effect: The tendency for incompetent people to overestimate their competence, and very competent people to underestimate their competence.

If employees have incorrectly performed a procedure for years (and never been held accountable), it can be difficult to teach them how to correctly follow the procedure.

We need to design a training program that enables them to: (1) recognize and accept that their way is wrong, (2) be open to learning how to do it the correct way, and then (3) be willing to do it the correct way. And we need to facilitate this training program in a way that enables them to retain their self-respect and avoids making them defensive. It can be done but it is not easy!

Since training programs should be designed to build participant confidence in their own competence, training individuals who underestimate their competence is a much less complicated endeavor. We can use learning activities that gradually let the participants see that they are competent. For example, they will begin to get a sense of their competence when they can answer all of the questions on a content quiz, or satisfactorily perform increasingly more difficult tasks, and receive positive feedback throughout the process.

4.  Curse of Knowledge bias: When well-informed people are unable to look at an issue from the perspective of a less informed person.

Training programs need to be designed with the target audience in mind.

This is why subject matter experts (SMEs) can be the very worst curriculum designers and trainers. Basic information is already hot wired into their brains, so they assume that everyone else is at their level. Then they become impatient when participants keep stumbling and asking questions about things the SME considers obvious.

In order to ensure that the content is at an appropriate level for the target audience, ask the SMEs to identify step by step what a new employee would need to learn and/or do to be an effective performer.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is for the curriculum designer to represent the target audience. We can make sure that the content flow is logical and complete, and ask for additional information or clarification when the SME unconsciously jumps over a step.

If you have recognized and addressed these biases, it would be wonderful to know what you did.

We’ll address the next two cognitive biases in our next Tip.

May your learning be sweet.


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