eLearning Technology: How to Banish Bias So You Don’t Blow the Budget

If you’ve ever been involved in the buying process for eLearning technology or enterprise software, you know it’s no small feat. While some purchases might be rather simple, others require a great deal of planning, experience and collaboration. Depending on the size of your organization, one example might be an eLearning software such as a learning management system or authoring tool.

While selecting the best technology for the needs of your organization is important, it’s absolutely critical you don’t purchase the wrong technology. Scary, right? This is why we have processes in place. But even the best-intentioned process can fall victim to biases.

eLearning Technology Selection and Cognitive Bias

Cognitive bias is natural and unavoidable. It is the tendency of people to perceive information based on their own experiences and preferences that can lead to decisions that may not demonstrate sound judgement. These tendencies and perceptions can result in a less than perfect decision. To increase awareness and improve the likelihood of choosing the best technology or software, we’ve compiled this list of common biases all members of the buying committee must understand and avoid.

#1. Confirmation Bias. Topping the list is confirmation bias, which is the tendency to seek and interpret new information that supports existing beliefs.

People see and hear what they want to see and hear. This is based on a set of beliefs and inferences that may not be true or have anything to do with reality. Everyone is guilty of this. The problem occurs when we treat these beliefs as facts, when they in fact are not.

Anticipate where confirmation bias is likely to raise its ugly head and influence your selection process so that all involved will be able to recognize it for what it is and avoid it.

#2. Halo Effect. Next on our list is what we call the halo effect. When you feel a positive connection with a vendor representative, you’re more likely to rate their product more favorably. You should consider how your overall impressions of an individual might influence your evaluations of other characteristics and their offering. Make every effort to avoid its influence on your perceptions and decisions by understanding this bias and that it does exist.

#3. Anchoring. Another way bias comes into play is by relying too heavily on one piece of information, often the initial information that is acquired. This can manifest itself in the evaluation process when it’s the first to meet requirements and the selection team then “anchors” on that offering so it becomes the preferred vendor. This often leads to rejecting subsequent alternatives even if they are superior. A good example is the tendency to be swayed by the first demo or sales presentation.

#4. Groupthink. This is also known as the bandwagon effect, which is when the brain tends to place value on consensus or conclude that the product being evaluated must be desirable, and therefore the preferred choice, because others desire it.

Individuals or groups might start to believe something without having collected all the facts because others believe it. If several team members start to focus on a particular product, groupthink bias can steer the entire team towards that solution even if a different product might be a better choice.

#5. Status Quo. Fifth on our list is status quo – resistance to change; desire to keep everything the same. This is very similar to Zero Risk, which is the aversion to risk. While the status quo bias perceives the existing solution to be adequate because adopting a new solution could cause discomfort due to change or new processes, zero risk bias sways thinking patterns towards low risk choices even if the solution is less capable than others that are higher risk.

#6. Pro-innovation. Many of us, especially techies, can relate to this bias – it’s the tendency to easily get distracted by the shiny new object, which leads one to believe new, innovative technology is superior to existing solutions. The shiny new object may be exactly what is needed but one should be aware of this bias in order to recognize it in the event the shiny new object is not the best solution.

#7. Mere Exposure Effect. The next bias to be aware of is also known as the familiarity principle, whereby familiarity drives acceptance. It is the tendency to develop a preference for a vendor simply because they are familiar with them, rationalizing that they are likely to be safer with what is known versus the unknown.

#8. Functional Fixedness. Our final bias we’d like to highlight, functional fixedness, is the tendency to think of something as useful only in the same way it has been traditionally used. This could allow for a suitable solution to be rejected, and furthermore, can impair our ability to think of novel solutions to problems. Be open to changing processes to fit the best solution instead of trying to find a solution that fits your existing processes.

While there are many, many more biases that exist, we chose these eight as the most important to be aware of when selecting eLearning technology. Having a good decision making process that guides the analysis, and has been tested and proven effective, along with the experience from team members and colleagues, is the best approach to avoiding biased decisions.  

Key lessons in selecting eLearning technology:

- Put safeguards in place.
- Set some ground rules.
- Focus on the facts.
- Don’t believe everything you read and be prepared to check facts. 
- Get an unbiased opinion.
- Know the red flag statements.

What are your top tips for avoiding cognitive bias when selecting eLearning technology or software?

Contact knowbly™ if you’re ready to start exploring the simplest way to create interactive eLearning.