Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Can Advanced Training Kill You?

Several months ago, I read an article about a new study that revealed that advanced driving schools that teach emergency manoeuvres only increase the risk of teen driving collisions. It seemed counter-intuitive that something that is designed to keep drivers safe - aka advanced training - can actually increase the likelihood of accidents.

"According to the International Road Federation (IRF), driver skills training — especially those emergency skill-based curriculums such as skid control, etc. actually increases the likelihood your offspring will be involved in an automobile accident. Counterproductive, says the International Road Federation (IRF), is what skills training does, namely imbuing “overconfidence [that] eliminates normally cautious behaviour.”

The overconfidence bias
Overconfidence is what prevents us from acting more cautiously when driving. But not just driving, we seem to be overconfident about many things. For example, our assessment of ourselves, our ability to meet tight timelines and stay within budgets, invest and make financial choices, forecast weather, predict the future of relationships, etc. This overconfidence bias creeps into all aspects of our daily lives.

As per Wikipedia, "The most common way in which overconfidence has been studied is by asking people how confident they are of specific beliefs they hold or answers they provide. The data show that confidence systematically exceeds accuracy, implying people are more sure that they are correct than they deserve to be." 

Werner DeBondt and Richard H. Thaler (1995) go on to say: 
Perhaps the most robust finding in the psychology of judgment is that people are overconfident.

Designing learning to manage the overconfidence bias
As learning designers, how can we avoid designing training that is counter productive? ARCS, Gagne and many other learning theories and models tell us that confidence is good. But when does this confidence turn into overconfidence? To answer this question, it is important to highlight that confidence comes from a deep understanding of the subject and validated expertise. In a state of confidence, beliefs match  abilities. Overconfidence is surrounded by speculation and is a result of beliefs exceeding abilities. 

As I read some more about confidence and overconfidence, I stumbled upon this very interesting article on the FBI page titled, Good Decisions - Tips and Strategies for Avoiding Psychological Traps. 
Brian Fitch, Ph.D, the author, talks about how law enforcement professionals can avoid psychological traps and make better decisions. It is a great read and some of the tips and traps apply rather well to the design of learning. For every tip by the author, I tried to reinterpret it from a learning design perspective and how we can help our learners avoid or better manage the overconfidence bias. (All items within quotes are from the article. My interpretations of the application to learning design are highlighted in blue):

  • "Examine assumptions carefully, especially those beliefs most strongly or confidently held. All people take certain beliefs and assumptions for granted—rather than checking periodically on accuracy, they simply assume these are true. Assumptions are dangerous, especially in police work." 

>> As learning designers, we can create lesson plans, self-check questions and assessments that challenge underlying beliefs and assumptions. It is important that we maximize the opportunities to check learners' assumptions within the safety of the course and the learning experience. In real-life, any mistakes based on poor or inaccurate assumptions might prove very costly.

  • "Try imagining all of the possible ways that something can turn out, especially all of the ways that something can go wrong." 

>> As learning designers, this speaks to me from a scenario-design perspective. We can create real-life scenarios where learners have choices and opportunities to make decisions. Scenarios can include different options or paths that learners can take and choosing a specific path can result in a specific consequence.

  • "Appreciate the limits of knowledge and abilities. Good decision makers not only make a conscious effort to investigate and verify information but also recognize what they do not know. In many cases, what officers do not know can be more important than what they know." 

>> As learning designers, we can create opportunities for learners to implement and apply what they know. During the practice and application phase of learning, we can provide feedback mechanisms that inform  learners about what they don't know and how they can acquire the missing piece of knowledge.

  • "Actively solicit input and ideas from others, especially those with different experiences and opinions. Being open to ideas and criticism is critical at every stage of the decision-making process and, in many cases, may save lives."

>> As learning designers, we can create opportunities for learners to be exposed to other learners in the community. Different views, new ideas and insights from others can help learners become more realistic about their own understanding of the subject and stay open to learning new things as they progress in their learning journey.

Perhaps we need to design learning experiences that encourage a degree of doubt rather than overconfidence. I leave you with this thought:

PS: This paper on 'A Survey on Overconfidence, Insurance and Self-Assessment Training Programs' is quite insightful! Also, in this discussion, it is important to distinguish between optimism and over confidence. Here's one way to see the difference, "Optimism is an attitude. Overconfidence is an error in calculating statistical probabilities."