TMI: Too Much Information

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One of my daughter’s favourite expressions usually directed at me or my son.

I’ve been a teacher for over almost 25 years and I’m always trying to understand my students’ behaviour.  Sometimes they do the oddest things.  I’m forever trying to nudge them to complete their assignments well and really think about what they are learning in class.

One example that I’ve going to relay here has the potential to explain why so many people, despite having the best intentions, don’t actually become DIY Investors.  My hypothesis is the amount of information available on investing is so overwhelming that a lot of people become afraid to make mistakes and then choose instead not to follow through.

In my first post ever on this blog, I explained how bombarding potential clients with endless information is a time honoured tradition among many professions.  Teachers, lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, investment advisors all do it.  The idea is to make things appear so complicated that lay people need the help of the experts to navigate the complexity.

So here was my experiment to test my hypothesis.  Students in two different classes were to complete a take home online test on the Ontario Employment Standards Act (the rules governing worker and supervisor/owner interactions in Ontario). Before dismissing the students, I gave instructions to both classes on the test specifics.

For class A, I went into great detail explaining exactly what they needed to do to complete the test and also discussed potential problems they may encounter. The program is a little buggy and I know what type of issues they will have to deal with to get it done.

For class B, I decided to be very brief in my instructions and very relaxed about the whole process.  I basically told the students what site to visit and that everything was self explanatory.  I told them I’ve been using the test for so many years and hundreds of students in the past have been able to successfully complete it so they shouldn’t have any problems.

The students were given 2 days to complete the test at home.   The result?  80% of the students in class B completed the test on time while only 60% of the class A students finished.

My theory is the lack of perseverance among my class A students was the result of being told too much information (TMI) about the possible obstacles they would face.  Instead of preparing them, it turned them off to trying.

Class B students thought the test was a simple matter that lots of previous students just like them had completed.  So they didn’t become discouraged when faced with difficulties.  Their lack of knowledge of what could go wrong made is easier for them to complete the test.  I also noticed fewer students is class B asked me for help during the test taking.

So my takeaway from this little experiment is:  in order to boost the chances of becoming DIY investors, people need to find a strategy that works and isn’t too complicated.  Avoiding as much human contact with the “experts” as possible would also be useful.

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