Monday, 18 April 2011

Choice architecture

There is no such thing as a "neutral" design.

So say Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler in their now-classic book, Nudge.

Every design you can think of, from canteen displays to school layouts, nudges people to make one decision rather than another.

They call the people who craft these designs 'choice architects'.

According to Sunstein and Thaler, 'a choice architect has the responsibility for organizing the context in which people make decisions.'

Educators, for them,  are choice architects par excellence, organising the context for their learners' education in a 1000 different ways.

Seating is one of the more obvious types of context in a classroom.

 How do you arrange the seats?

In a semi-circle, a full circle, or in rows?

Is it worth changing the seating for different exercises?

I have always found an incredible difference when learners sit facing each other, as opposed to doing pair work side-on.

It reduces the opportunity for them not to engage with each other, while removing me from their immediate vision.

It therefore has a psychological, symbolic, and practical effect.

By getting the learners to face each other in this way, I'm reducing their choice, rather than increasing it: they have to face each other and talk.

They cannot keep looking to me to voice their side of the conversation by proxy.

They are the centre of the learning process, not me, although it is I who have made it so.

This, I think, is the ultimate lesson of Nudge.

We cannot but help create contexts which favour certain choices, and so it behoves us to admit this, and to set things up to achieve what we consider to be the best results.

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