Combatting Analysis Paralysis by Simplifying Learning Solutions

Ever been overwhelmed by decision-making? Read about how too many choices can lead to analysis paralysis and a subsequent halt in learning.

Last winter, right before our family’s big Christmas party, my mom sent me to the grocery store to pick up a few last-minute items. Her grocery lists are usually rich in detail, giving name brands and acute descriptions of the packaging holding what she’s looking for, but one item on the list threw me for a loop. All it said was olives. There were no descriptors–pitted or un-pitted, green or black, Castelvetrano or Kalamata–nothing. 

I stood in front of the olive bar, a spoon in one hand and the dangerously non-specific list in the other. There must have been twenty different kinds of olives spread before me. If I was purchasing the olives for myself, I would have scooped a heap of feta-stuffed olives into a cup and carried on with my shopping, but I had several factors weighing on this decision.

Not only did I have an overwhelming amount of choices before me, but I also had to consider who I was buying these olives for, the expectations of my mother, and what would be the best option for everyone involved in what my family would later refer to as “Olive-gate.” At that moment, the sheer volume of choices and a lack of information surrounding the desired product made for a difficult decision. It also raised some concerns about whether I would regret my final decision; would I be left with the fear that the unchosen option would have been better? How should I proceed?

So, I came home with an exorbitant amount of varying types of olives to avoid making the wrong decision. It turns out, my mother just needed one can of black olives, but then again, how was I to know? I was faced with one objective but was not given the tools to make the correct decision when faced with the possible options. 

Much like this scenario, vague and non-objective driven training can lead to analysis paralysis and confusion for learners. In this blog post, we are going to take a look at how simplifying and clarifying learning solutions can benefit learners and create successful training courses.

What is analysis paralysis and how can it affect learning?

James Chen for Investopedia writes, “Analysis paralysis happens when overanalysis or overthinking prevents an individual or group from making a decision.” This type of overthinking occurs in a host of scenarios, but let’s focus on its relation to learning. Analysis paralysis can occur when a learner isn’t particularly certain of best practices to identify an appropriate outcome or solution.

There are a few things that can trigger this uncertainty mentioned above:

  • Too much/not enough information to make an informed decision
  • Fear of making the wrong choice
  • Too many available options or choices

All too often, when designing training courses, companies either overload the learner with information or, conversely, provide vague information/instruction leaving the learner prone to analysis paralysis. Learners faced with too much information may have trouble discerning best practices due to becoming overwhelmed with all the choices or potential outcomes of their decision, whereas learners faced with vague information may be more prone to the fear of making the wrong decision based on their lack of knowledge. 

This can affect learning by causing employees to lock themselves in a sort of stalemate. Analysis paralysis limits an individual from making decisions and moving forward. Adults learn from experience; we learn from both triumph and defeat, but if we cannot reach a point where we aren’t even capable of making a decision that would lead us to success or failure, learning comes to a halt. 

So how can we design training programs to avoid analysis paralysis?

KISS (Keep it simple, silly!) 

Let’s say a training course involves some pretty complicated topics or skills. A great way to address this challenge is to break these complicated topics or tasks down into straightforward, digestible bits of learning, and providing learners the opportunity to master these topics or skills and then, subsequently, build upon them. For example, when developing ILT, ensure that tasks are broken down with plenty of opportunities for the participants to practice and receive feedback before moving forward. If developing eLearning, you could restrict the course navigation, at least for the first time. Then after each section, provide knowledge checks where the learners can practice what they learned before moving forward.  This can help learners avoid feeling overwhelmed with mass amounts of information and choices.

To avoid under-equipping employees with vague information, it is important to implement strong, clear learning objectives. Learning objectives truly do fall under the category of quality over quantity. The fewer, yet more direct learning objectives you can inject into training, the better. Learning objectives should drive your course; they should tell learners exactly what they will be capable of post-training. For example, if employees need to know the exact protocol of what to do in a warehouse fire, the learning objectives should achieve that end goal by providing clear, actionable directions (e.g., ‘ locate and pull the fire alarm’ or ‘execute the protocol to alert the team of evacuation’).

In the example above, giving strong learning objectives would allow learners to have a clear idea of how to proceed, all while eliminating the chances of overwhelming a learner with making decisions or choices without suitable guidance (see “Olive-gate”).

So, to recap, avoiding analysis paralysis and simplifying learning solutions requires two main things:

  • Clear, strong learning objectives
  • Manageable amounts of information

Are your employees overloaded? Want to know how we can help you simplify your existing training options? Get in touch with one of our Learning Consultants to see what Roundtable can do to help you strengthen your workforce.