Choose one of the following:
Have you made a choice? Good. Now to the results. If you chose green, tough luck—you chose incorrectly. Well done, team red!
You just made a choice, but it doesn’t feel right, does it? You made a selection from two available options and you either got it correct or you got it wrong. But if you got it right there is no real feeling of success. And if you got it wrong you don’t blame yourself for choosing incorrectly; you blame me for being unfair. And rightly so—this was an uninformed choice. I did not provide adequate information for you to make a choice in a way that would be meaningful. Consequently, it became an arbitrary decision.
Let’s try again.
Choose the most useful item for carrying large amounts of water:
This wasn’t much fun either. This is an obvious choice. Here the answer is clearly apparent, thus there is no real choice. It is a process devoid of meaning. Pick the bucket and move on.
Let’s give this one more try.
Without looking, what was the first word in this blog post (not including the title)?
Made a decision? Ok, now go have a look at the top and see if you got it right. If you did manage to pick it, well done — may you always have cat videos. If you didn’t get it, at least you didn’t cheat. If you cheated, may you see spoilers for your favorite show. If you glanced at the top accidentally, that’s probably what I would have done.
The action of making this choice was hopefully a bit more interesting than the previous two. It isn’t entirely obvious without looking directly at the answer. But you don’t feel like you have been too cheated if you got it wrong; you know you must have read the word and it wasn’t that long ago, so you are less likely to blame me for not providing enough information.
Unpacking the Concept of Choice
My purpose with the above examples is to start to unpack and discuss the notion of choice, specifically how this is tied to the creation of an interactive and adaptive learning experience. An adaptive lesson is fundamentally built around choice, and whether these choices are interesting and meaningful fundamentally affects whether the learning experience as a whole is engaging, rewarding and impactful. The following dives into three different elements that are key to the construction of meaningful choices.
Correct level of information
As the red/green example above suggests, the person making a choice has to have the correct amount of information and therefore be in a place where making the choice can be meaningful. The learner needs to have enough information to be able to discern the differences between the possible options and to determine why one answer may be the best one.
In terms of an online learning experience, determining the proper amount of information is going to be highly dependent on the function of the lesson itself and where it fits into wider teaching practice. Is it a self contained experience that exists as the students’ first point of contact with a particular topic, or is it a session that is meant to build on previously developed knowledge? These factors will have a bearing on the correct level of information needed. The aim is to create a balance so that the choices that you give learners don’t become either arbitrary guesses or obvious selections.
Ideally the correct level of information should be a bit less than all the information you need, or, to put it another way, a choice that sits between the learner’s current level of awareness and the desired level of understanding. A meaningful choice encourages a learner to bridge this gap by extrapolating an answer from what they have been given. This can be supported by exercises where the learner has the opportunity to discover the answer through experimentation.
One of the other things that it is useful to keep in mind when aiming to create meaningful choices is the possibility space that the choice is framed within. Have a look at the following question.
Select one of the following:
And now this one.
Enter the correct answer:
For the first question above the possibility space is pretty narrow and very transparent. It is clear that there is a maximum of four possible choices. When the possibility space is broader, like in the second example, it is much harder to immediately discern all the possible options and you feel more as if you need to find something for yourself. By making use of the hidden nature of the possibility space within an adaptive lesson, you can create a range of situations where choices feel individual, personalized and, as a result, meaningful.
But for a choice to be meaningful it needs to be paired with an appropriate consequence. In a digital game, a meaningful choice has a consequence that ties directly to whether you are getting closer to winning the game or losing it. In an adaptive lesson, consequence often comes in the form of feedback, and the role of this feedback is to show you whether you are getting closer to comprehension of the learning objectives at hand.
The most direct way this can be done is through feedback that responds directly to your specific choices. For the third question I proposed above, I provided several feedback options by trying to imagine all the possible interactions that people may have with that question. If you have something that directly addresses your unique actions, then those actions are going to feel more meaningful.
For more on how feedback can be used to respond specifically to particular actions and guide learners towards the solution, I recommend having a look at Alison’s post on staggering feedback.
By providing the correct amount of information, implementing a broadened opaque possibility space and creating unique feedback, one is able to design a learning experience that enables learners to make meaningful choices. To keep a focus on this while designing a lesson it’s helpful to have some guidelines.
If you’d like to receive a copy of a Prompt List that will help you craft your own meaningful choices, signup to our new Learning Design Newsletter.
The above borrows and builds on a number of ideas from Improving Player Choices by Tracy Fullerton,Chris Swain,Steve Hoffman. A number of the ideas have been adapted to engage specifically with choice as it appears within adaptive learning.