I met an educational technology expert recently who said that the industry was facing a challenging dilemma. With all of the new apps and websites and technologies available to students and teachers, he worried that we were now being bogged down by the “tyranny of choice.” I hadn’t heard the phrase “tyranny of choice” before so I googled it. That initial search led me to the Stanford Center on Longevity where they summarized the “tyranny of choice.”
“We presume that more choices allow us to get exactly what we want, making us happier. While there is no doubt that some choice is better than none, more may quickly become too much. Drawbacks include regret, unattainable expectations and paralysis.”
That’s right. Being offered too many choices can be a bad thing. Think about it. You probably know some restaurant that has an unwieldy menu that takes ten or fifteen minutes to digest. As you stare at the twenty seafood options and the fourteen chicken dishes, you’re facing the tyranny of choice. As you peruse the pages, you may feel some paralysis by the options. When you finally order, you may have such high expectations of what you’ve ordered that you’re bound to be let down. Which can ultimately lead to regret. Yes, you should have ordered the lobster ravioli.
That’s the tyranny of choice.
Bear with me as I stick with the restaurant theme just a little longer. This weekend, I came across an article written by Frank Bruni titled “The Best Restaurant if You’re Over 50!” Having recently hit the five decade milestone myself, I read Bruni’s work with anticipation. Which restaurant would be the best for my newfound demographic? I half-worried that I would now have to start eating at some national chain like Applebee’s or TGIFridays. Or maybe I’d have to start regularly eating at McDonald’s? The horror!
But that’s not what I found. Instead, Bruni wrote that, with age, he’s found comfort in consistency. Examining his evolution, he compared it to his cocktail choices.
“When I was 34, I wanted bling, because it persuaded me that I was special. When I was 44, I wanted blinis, because they made me feel sophisticated. At 54, I just want martinis, because I’m certain of what’s in them and of what that potion can do.”
Certainty and consistency. That’s what the best restaurant provides, according to Bruni. He’s willing to eat the same thing at the same restaurant over and over. There’s never any regret. There’s never any unattainable expectations or paralysis. There’s no tyranny of choice.
So, what does this have to do with educational technology? And what is the “best technology tool?”
With the explosion of educational technology, I think a lot of people are finding comfort in the certain and the consistent. Sure, new tools are introduced each day and they have different affordances (and constraints). As risk takers and innovators, we need to try them out and see how they impact student learning and engagement.
But those new tools don’t always work the way they’re intended. And they don’t always lead to the desired instructional results. Some aren’t consistently available. Others can be glitchy.
The best educational tool is the one that reliably and consistently does what we want it to do.
It’s not a flashy choice. Or a sophisticated one. But it’s the right one.
So, while I’ll continue to innovate and try out new technologies, I’ll return to those tools that are consistent and reliable.
They’re the best.