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How cognitive biases can influence your training strategy

They say that perception is reality. If we see the world in a certain way, this is how the world will be for us. Perceptions influence how we remember things, how we select information, and how we understand and interpret reality.

To a certain extent, we all live in different worlds designed by the master architects: our brains. There are even philosophers who say that objective reality doesn’t exist. We wouldn’t go that far, not even for the sake of interesting arguments, but there is some truth to this idea

And perhaps the theory of cognitive biases explains best why reality is perceived differently by different brains.

How cognitive biases can influence your training strategy

A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking that occurs when people are processing and interpreting information and affects their decisions and judgments. It's often a result of your brain's attempt to simplify information processing.

Read more: The learning brain and why L&D professionals should care about it

Let’s see some cognitive biases and how they can influence our training strategies:

  • Egocentrism

    Self-centeredness has its evolutionary advantages. If a person takes into account their own needs, they will have a better chance to survive. However, humans are a social species. We have managed to achieve so much as a species because we can cooperate, learn from one another, and share resources. Education and training programs should address the needs of all attendees, not only of the few.

    Read more: Meeting the needs of today’s employees with online training

  • Information bias

    In our societies, information is easily available thanks to a simple internet connection. Indeed there is still much to do, as not all people have access to the internet, but as a whole, we can say that we live in the information age. This takes us to the second cognitive bias: “More information will help me make a better decision”. On a superficial level, it seems to make sense. But more information is not synonymous with better or more relevant information. Flat-earthers and anti-vaxxers process a lot of “information”, but not necessarily to high-quality information. So make sure that you choose quality over quantity for your training programs.

  • Confirmation bias

    This one is related to the previous one. Psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered that humans do not necessarily read to expose themselves to new opinions, but rather to confirm their personal opinions. This is why social networks created bubbles in which people with similar outlooks on life seek validation for their own opinions instead of trying to understand how others think. This is why with so much information out there, our society is more polarized than ever. So make sure that you keep an open mind when you design a training program or a new course.

  • Loss aversion

    In a nutshell, loss aversion is all about being able to take risks. For some people, the pain of losing something they already have is stronger than the joy of gaining something new. Needless to say, always staying on the safe side will hardly ever bring new opportunities. We don’t have to be reckless and jump off a cliff just to prove ourselves that we can take risks, but doing things differently and taking reasonable risks might be the best way to find the right opportunities. So be bold and step outside the box when you create a new course. Wonderful things might happen!

    Read more: How to prepare your team to overcome unexpected obstacles

  • Groupthink

    When consensus is more important than open and active debates about the best options, it’s difficult to be creative. Consensus is indeed important, as it would be nearly impossible to get things done in an organization when conflicting situations are the norm. However seeking consensus alone, without creating a space for open debate is not the right way to encourage creative and out of the box ideas. Make sure that you actively listen to all those involved in the process and give everyone the possibility to express personal ideas.

Final thoughts

It’s difficult or almost impossible to overcome all cognitive biases, as some of them are deeply enshrined in our thinking. For thousands of years, that have helped us make sense of the world around us. However, instructional design thinking might be a solution to this problem.

Read more: The 5 steps of Instructional Design Thinking [INFOGRAPHIC]

If we carefully follow the five steps of instructional design thinking (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test), there is a higher probability to create training programs in an objective and client-oriented manner.

Keep in mind that if “perception is reality” for you, it is the same for those around you. So make sure that you listen carefully and include the others in the conversation. Their perceptions are equally important and valuable. Empathy is essential in the training business. And it is the first step of the instructional design thinking.