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The Paradox of Choice

Class Registration and the Tomorrow that Never Comes

by Matt James, Head of Product, CourseStorm

It’s no secret that here at CourseStorm, we like to make things simple. Take a look at our pricing page, for example. We don’t offer a Silver plan, a Gold plan, and a Platinum plan. There’s just one plan: CourseStorm.

Why is this so important to us?

Pretend, for a moment, that you work for a large business that’s about to offer mutual funds to its employees, and you’ve been put in charge of deciding which funds to offer.  You want to be sure that each person winds up with the perfect choice for them, so you select a large portfolio of mutual fund options and feel proud of yourself for giving your employees the benefit of choice.

A month down the road, you’re surprised to find that participation in mutual funds at your company is low. It makes no sense to you. Every day that passes, employees are passing up on free money. Clearly, any mutual plan would be better than no mutual plan, so why aren’t they signing up?

Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less, ran a study just like this and found that too many choices can actually cause decision paralysis, where the simplest choice is sometimes electing to make no choice at all. Participants looked at a long list of options and felt incapable of deciding, so they put the decision off until “tomorrow” — a tomorrow that, in all too many cases, never came.

Being faced with too many choices can be overwhelming on its own, but sometimes, the freedom to choose can come with the additional pressure to make the perfect selection. In fact, Schwartz found that those in his study who did choose a mutual fund from the long list of options, were less satisfied in the end than those who made no selection at all.  

So what does this have to do with education?

From which classes to enroll in, to how many classes to take at a time, it’s easy to imagine students and parents feeling overwhelmed. Just like with the mutual funds, they may see too many options and put off the decision until “tomorrow”.

Think about class registration as an example. If you speak to any parent about registering for kids’ classes, you’ll hear the same refrain: “It’s a hassle!”  First, there’s the question of which class to take, then you have to compare schedules, set up transportation, and worst of all — the forms!

We’ve looked at a large sampling of registration forms. Many of them are long and arduous, particularly when it comes to kids’ classes. And kids don’t just have one activity, they have lots of them.  So parents have to repeat this process for each activity (and each child!).

There’s a lot of opportunity to simplify the registration process for your students and parents, but where do you start?  We’d suggest the form itself.

For this week’s challenge, we recommend taking a few minutes to re-evaluate your registration forms and ask yourself these questions:

  • How much information do you really need to register a student for a class?
  • Do you have any outdated questions you no longer require?
  • Are there fields you could combine or eliminate entirely?
    (For example, if you have multiple waiver forms, try combining them into a single “I agree” checkbox.)
  • Is there any information you could gather at a later date?

With just a few small tweaks, you may find that students and parents are more willing to sign up today and not put it off until the tomorrow that never comes.