The Status Quo Can Curb Learning

There is a lot that can interfere with a willingness to learn new things.

Andrea May has identified ten cognitive biases and we have considered the first eight: Confirmation, Anchoring, Curse of Knowledge, the Dunning-Kruger effect, Functional Fixedness, Mere Exposure Effect, Not Invented Here, and Reactance in previous articles.

Now we’ll look at the last two cognitive biases and discuss how we can counter their effect through our training design and delivery. The titles and descriptions of the biases are Ms. May’s. The commentary is mine.

1. Status Quo bias: The tendency to want things to stay relatively the same as they have always been.

Change may be constant, but it can still be very distressing to many participants. If you are teaching about a change in procedure, employees who have used the current procedure for years are likely to object for several reasons.

First, they are comfortable with how things have been done. Second, they may fear that they will not be able to master the new procedure. Third, they may get defensive, feeling that the procedural change indicates that their previous performance has been sub par.

To enable employees to get past the feeling that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” you can have them brainstorm the pros and cons of the current procedure. This will hopefully help them to discover for themselves the need for the change.

Then show the employees what control they may have over the change. For example, they may be able to have input regarding when and/or how to implement the change so that it is as nonthreatening as possible.

2. System Justification bias: The tendency to try to actively maintain the status quo.

When a company decides to use a more effective training strategy by moving their trainers from lecture and PowerPoint to a more interactive and participatory approach, some of the trainers may dig their heels in. As with the status quo bias, they are comfortable with giving lectures. They are also afraid of losing control over the class as well as losing their “expert lecturer” role.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *