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Choosing 'The Art of Choosing'
August 22, 2010 - 7:30pm

I decided to read Sheena Iyengar's new book, The Art of Choosing, after watching her TED Talk.

The opportunity to give a TED Talk must rank just below inclusion in the Oprah book club. Does anyone know just how big the book selling boost is for authors appearing on TED?

Sheena Iyengar is best known for her jam experiment. This is the experiment that Barry Schwartz made famous in his 2004 book, The Paradox of Choice. In the experiment, Iyengar found that shoppers were much less likely to purchase a jar of jam when presented with many choices (at a tasting booth), in comparison with shoppers who were invited to sample only a few varieties. The conventional wisdom that more choice is always beneficial does not always seem to hold true.

Iyenagar's choice research has been influential in my world of course design and learning technology. We understand that it is often preferable to limit the number of tools available to faculty in a learning management system, as installing every extension or building block may cause instructors to choose to entirely forgo the use of any tool (such as discussion boards or wikis). As the learning management system has ballooned into a central campus portal, the need to constantly "edit down" non-core learning functions continues to grow. An increasing number of campus stakeholders may request links in the LMS (everything from events to athletics), requests that we need to weigh against the costs of diminishing the utilization of tools that promote active learning.

The Art of Choosing fits nicely into a growing body of behavior economics, brain research, and cognitive psychology that explores the limits of our own decision making abilities. Dan Ariely and Jonah Lehrer have written some of the best books in this tradition. One of my big take-aways from The Art of Choosing is that we may be poor decision makers, but our difficulties in choosing are often culturally influenced. Iyengar is much better at conducting cross-cultural studies on choice and behavior than other researchers in this field, perhaps a result of her growing up as a child of immigrants.

What factors would convince you to choose to take the time to watch Iyengar's TED Talk? Have any of you made the choice to read The Art of Choosing?

 

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