Make It Easier To Learn

I am really enjoying listening to Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.  It’s good enough I’m probably going to want it on paper by the end of the book. I was interested in it due to my interest in clear thinking, but I also had a predisposition to be interested in the author due to his fascinating work on happiness:

There are a number of interesting and useful concepts in the book, but today I’m thinking about the idea of cognitive ease.

Kahneman is also well known as a nobel prize winner for his work on prospect theory. This is, roughly, the idea that people are more likely to act to avoid loss than to achieve a gain. In his work is a warning that we are not the rational players that economists would believe that we are. Part of the discussion he has on this issue is that when we feel cognitive ease, we’re likely to focus on that, and believe it, rather than something that causes cognitive stress or strain. Obviously, in a book focused on helping the reader identify their own cognitive biases and how to think past them, Kahneman points out qualities of cognitive ease so we can be aware when we’re feeling them and be more skeptical of the information. However, I also heard in that section very specific instructions for a good user design/experience. So what produces cognitive ease?

  • Maximize legibility (clear fonts, contrasting backgrounds, use bold to emphasize the important points)
  • Use simple language when possible
  • Make a memorable message (slogans, catch phrases, etc)

Good design? It sets people up for cognitive ease. Good communication skills? Also sets people up for cognitive ease. User experience? The same. Which I’ve always focused on as an aspect of making it easier for people to learn and incorporate information.  Though from Kahneman’s work I now see something that should have been obvious before: that’s it’s not always employed for good.

That being the case, I’d like to think that libraries and educators are doing good, and any work we can do to create environments of cognitive ease for our patrons and students would be a good thing. And it appears I’m not the first person interested in design to make the connection between Kahneman’s cognitive ease and good design. Check out his stuff, at a minimum scan the wikipedia entry. It’s good context for our work!

My name is Lauren Pressley. This is where I think out loud, document what I'm doing, and share the things that I like. I'm the Director for Learning Environments at Virginia Tech University Libraries and author of a few books. This blog focuses on libraries, education, information, & the internet. When not at work or blogging, I spend most of my time with John and our son, Leif.

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