Learning designers have many tools and resources at their disposal these days so it’s easy to understand why they would choose to throw all of them at every development challenge in the hope of making  something stick.

Curse of Knowledge Today I have been reviewing a blended learning programme.

I use the words  “Blended and Learning” loosely to describe this product which contained everything but the kitchen sink and would be better described as a crime against learning.

The bigger crime is that somebody bought it and considered it a suitable vehicle for compliance training.

 Are you suffering from The Curse of Knowledge an explanation from Lifehack

When you suffer from the curse of knowledge you assume that other people know the things that you do, and this cognitive bias causes you to believe that people understand you a lot better than they really do.

In a famous psychological experiment, a group of subjects was divided in two: tappers and listeners. The tappers were asked to think of a song and try to rhythmically tap the song on a table, while the listeners were asked to listen and figure out which song the tappers were tapping along to.

The tappers were 50% certain that the listeners would be able to identify the song they had had in mind while tapping, but the results of the experiment were shocking: only 2.5% of the listeners were able to figure out the song! In other words: the tappers overestimated their success ratio of being understood 20 times above how many times they actually were being understood.

When we suffer from the curse of knowledge, we are like the tappers: just because we know the melody of the song we’re tapping to we inaccurately assume that others will know it too. Often, the other person—the listener—doesn’t draw the same conclusions that we do because this person doesn’t have the same information as we do. In the case of the listeners, they weren’t able to identify the tapping as a song, they only heard a series of tuneless tappings.

Something similar happens with online learning designers who throw the kitchen sink into their products to support learning including imagery, sound and loosely connected video  in the hope that learners will understand the random connection

The Curse of Knowledge

An underlying principle for effective learning is of creating “flow” or the feeling of being completely absorbed by a learning activity, and that often requires a state of deep concentration. Flow is aided by working without interruption. Yet, at each stage when what was required for the learner to absorb and engage with the content to master the activity at hand the designer forgot to consider the big picture objectives, or the learner experience and chose to dive straight into his box of toys creating diversions and distractions with flash bangs, bells and whistles without considering the impact on learner or learning.

The curse of knowledge

Furthermore the designer was guided by a subject matter expert who blighted by “The Curse of Knowledge” had become consumed by the details and nuances of the subject, this resulted in two problems:

1. Assumptions were made about the audience’s knowledge of the subject which led to an inability on behalf of the learners to understand and apply the knowledge. Since the audience was not nearly as familiar with the details of this subject what they needed to do had not been sufficiently supported with the underpinning knowledge that was essential to why this was important. What’s obvious to us is not necessarily obvious to others.
2. When not making assumptions about what the audience should know, the subject matter expert swung in the opposite direction and fell into the trap of believing everything that they knew was important and interesting to the learners, and stuffed as much content as possible into the module. Aided by the various animations added by the designer the learning experience became what I can only describe as similar to a cognitive overload in a fairground.

The result of the curse of knowledge:- an organisation which is not compliant in the eyes of its regulatory body a product that is full of distractions and assumptions that has not been conducive to learning.