What does neuroscience teach us about helping students with the decision-making process?

Making decisions is not a simple process, but educators can support students in making decisions in a variety of ways.

Posted May 14th, 2019 by Eduology

How do we help students better utilize the new information we provide in their decision-making?

To make decisions or connections, the brain draws on 'mental maps' of past experiences and history while connecting with the new experiences and knowledge we receive externally (Arnsten, Wang, & Paspalas, 2012). Helping students connect new information to stored 'mental maps' increases the potential that students will use the new information in the decision-making process. To activate students' mental maps, ask them what they already know about a topic at the start of a session, write down the answers on paper or a whiteboard, then visually connect the new information you provide by adding key words to the visual and drawing lines from the new information to what they already know. Also, ask reflection questions and have students tell you about a personal experience they had or are currently experiencing that relates to the topic. Through visuals and conversation, you can support students in linking your information with what they already know to ensure the new information “sticks” and gets incorporated into their decision-making process.

Too much information overloads the pre-frontal cortex, which keeps students from assimilating new information into the decision-making process. Research indicates that you should provide no more than four pieces of information. If you have more information to give, group it into four overarching categories and provide a visual listing the information under each category.

Too much choice or too little personal choice increases stress (Howard, 2000). Students need to feel they have personal choice in a process—choice increases motivation and engagement. However, too many choices overwhelms and can shut down the decision-making process. Give students choices but help them limit options down to just two when it comes time to make a decision.

Finally, we often spend more time thinking about problems than solutions because we already have information about problems (Tversky and Kahneman, 1973). Help students get out of this cycle by discussing possible solutions and helping them visualize those solutions.

Posted May 14th, 2019 by Eduology

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4 Tips for Supporting Students in the Decision-Making Process

  1. Help students connect new information with their prior experiences and knowledge to help them better assimilate the new knowledge as they move into decision-making.

  2. Avoid overwhelming students with information.

  3. Let students make their own choices, but work with students to narrow down a multitude of choices to two options.

  4. Engage students in discussing and visualizing solutions.