Everyone likes choices, right? For years, Burger King has enticed us with offers to “have it your way.” Our cable and satellite services give us hundreds of channels (most of which we never watch). And online retailers, like Vans, now let us custom-design our own shoes.
If choices make us happier customers, shouldn’t we also give kids lots of choices about what they learn … to make them happier and more motivated learners?
Not necessarily. As I discuss in a column in this month’s issue of Educational Leadership, giving students some choices about what to learn (for example, choosing between books or reading passages) can motivate them, but giving too many choices can backfire.
As researchers Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper discovered in an experiment with college students, too many choices actually creates a sort of deer-in-headlights effect for students. Iyengar and Lepper found that when they gave students only six choices of topics on which to write an extra credit essay, they were far more likely to do the assignment (and do it well) than students given the choice of 30 possible topics. It seems the mental strain of choosing the best topic (and perhaps ensuing self-doubt over whether they had chosen correctly) caused the students with too many choices to invest less energy in the assignment or to simply abandon it altogether.
The bottom line appears to be this: choices for students are good, but as with all things, they should be doled out in moderation.
Read the full article to learn more about what the research says on student choice and project-based learning.
Bryan Goodwin is McREL’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing.