How the ‘Anchoring Effect’ Affects eLearning Scenario Development

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In eLearning scenario development,anchoring has two sides: it can be used to work for or work against the objectives of interactive storytelling. Although anchoring connotes a certain negativity, it also has good uses in eLearning development. __________________________________________________________________________

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Anchoring is described as a bias in decision making. Anchoring or focalism is a term used in psychology to describe the common human tendency to rely too heavily or “anchor” on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. (The Science Daily).

The same article in Science Daily explains anchoring in this manner:

“During normal decision making, individuals anchor, or overly rely, on specific information or a specific value and then adjust to that value to account for other elements of the circumstance.

Usually once the anchor is set, there is a bias toward that value.

Take, for example, a person looking to buy a used car – they may focus excessively on the odometer reading and the year of the car, and use those criteria as a basis for evaluating the value of the car, rather than considering how well the engine or the transmission is maintained.”

Apparently, anchoring connotes a certain negativity when used for assessment, evaluation and appraisal. Hence, withholding information or stressing focus on a certain data in order to solicit a biased judgment is wrong.

But then, in scenario-based story development, anchoring can be put to good use. Whenever we eLearning consultants develop scenarios for interactive storytelling, we need to create a visual environment with open-ended stories: the participants are  expected to complete the scenarios with their reactions and input.

In many respects, we developers create a ‘biased scenario’ in our narratives so we can project a certain urgency and tension to the participants, a way to simulate the real-life dispositions: a very angry customer, an anxious employee caught in a dilemma, or the irritation of a boss towards a subordinate.

If I may, I’d like to call this storytelling technique ‘emotional anchoring’. We use this to prime the eLearners to face simulated scenarios. Since interactive learning is scenario-based, we developers want eLearners to ‘anchor’ themselves to emotions we project in our interactive modules. In our eLearning modules, we sometimes use exaggeration so that our learners could focus on a point or some points.

Y. Alp Aslandogan in his article “The Anchoring Effect How Our Prior Knowledge Affects Our Perception”, concludes that anchoring is not necessarily ‘bad’ and it could be used for a good purpose:

“But perhaps a more important lesson is this—the anchoring effect is here to stay as part of the reality of human cognition. If we would like to provide accurate, reliable information to people about ourselves, our culture and values, we should reach them before they form a negative anchor or stereotype. If we would like our cultural background, religion, or values to be understood without distortion, we need to reach out to as many people as possible around us and interact with them. We need to hold conversations, and share meaningful experiences with them to anchor their future judgments in an accurate reference point. The anchoring effect is demonstrated to be pervasive and robust in psychology. It is not likely to disappear in the foreseeable future. However, we do have the opportunity to reach out and help form positive anchors for better human relationships.”

Related Blog:
Using the ridiculous and exaggerated situations to hone learning ideas.

Aslandogan, A. Y., ‘The Anchoring Effect How Our Prior Knowledge Affects Our Perception

Smith, A.R., Exploring the relationship between knowledge and anchoring effects: is the type of knowledge important?, University of Lowa

The Science Daily, Anchoring bias in decision-making

Ray Jimenez, PhD

Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”

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