Top 5 Ways Decision-Making Has Changed for Students<span class="wtr-time-wrap after-title"><span class="wtr-time-number">9</span> min read</span>

Dhawal Nayak
Dhawal Nayak

Feeling 👏

The world is advancing faster than we could have imagined. Students today often feel a lack of direction when it comes to preparing for the future. We are facing hard (decision-making) questions about the future of work that do not yet have a solid answer. Jobs today are changing at such rate that it’s has been difficult for the emerging Australians to keep in trend.

When we asked students — What are your plans after finishing school? we got a lot of responses like;

I’m confused, I don’t know where I start

I would like to do drama and theatre, but there is no industry

I’ve thought a little bit about it but there’s only so much you can think about it before you start panicking!

It’s really hard to like to find what I want to do because there are so many things I want to do

Does this feel familiar to you? What was your answer when someone asked you those questions?

I believe we all went through this ‘phase’ of growing up — where we were unsure of what we wanted in life and for our future. We questioned our skills — our values, and how those apply to finding a job we would enjoy. After all, on average we spend one-third of our lives at work.

It’s natural that we feel pressure during these days of our adolescence.

‘Not all those who wander are lost’

– J.R.R. Tolkien

In my assessment, there are few key reasons why students struggle when it comes to deciding their career, pathway, or next move. The top five listed below are amongst few that resonates with me;

1. Paralyzed by Choice

Let me illustrate an example here. I recently had to buy presents for a friend’s baby shower. Since I am always working I didn’t have time to drive around and shop for the present. So just like everyone I went online and started browsing for the baby shower present. Amazon and eBay had a great selection online all in one place. Amazon recommended me their ‘Top Rated Baby Gifts’ and I kid you not — it had just over 40,000 results.

First I was just browsing through causally — to help decide among the choices, I could view people’s reviews and the product rating. The freedom of choice made me feel I was in control. Nearly an hour later, after having browsed hundred of items, read countless contradictory reviews and pondering far too many choices, I was confused and exhausted.

Barry Schwartz, an American author wrote a book calls — The Paradox of Choice, where he compares the choices we are faced with in almost all areas of life, including education. In his own words, Barry express his views on current education system –

‘Today, the modern institution of higher learning offers a wide array of different “goods” and allows, even encourages, students — the “customers” — to shop around until they find what they like. Individual customers are free to “purchase” whatever bundles of knowledge they want, and the university provides whatever its customers demand. In some rather prestigious institutions, this shopping-mall view has been carried to an extreme.’

Schwartz continues, ‘In the first few weeks of classes, students sample the merchandise. They go to a class, stay ten minutes to see what the professor is like, then walk out, often in the middle of the professor’s sentence, to try another class. Students come and go in and out of classes just as browsers go in and out of stores in a mall. ‘You’ve got ten minutes,’ the students seem to be saying, ‘to show me what you’ve got. So give it your best shot.’

The bottom line is that students today are required to make choices about education that may affect them for the rest of their lives. And they are required to make these choices at a point in their intellectual development where they may lack the experience to make the decision.

‘As the number of options increases, the costs, in time and effort, of gathering the information needed to make a good choice also increase,’ writes Schwartz. ‘The level of certainty people have about their choice decreases. And the anticipation that they will regret their choice increases.’

2. Content Overload

Who would have thought learning can have a side effect — well it’s true. Many researchers have agreed digesting information without proper structure or process can experience ‘information overload’ or ‘cognitive overload’ as the neuroscientists would say. Saga Briggs from Open Colleges talks about the concept of ‘INFOBESITY’ –

“Just as our eyes are sometimes larger than our stomachs, our interest can be significantly greater than our brain capacity.”

The word ‘Information Overload’ was coined by Bertram Gross and first recorded use by the futurologist Alvin Toffler in 1970. Alvin predicted that the rapidly increasing amounts of information being produced would eventually cause people problems.

Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School has spent more than a decade studying the work habits of 238 people, collecting a total of 12,000 diary entries between them. She finds that focus and creativity are connected. Students are more likely to be creative if they are allowed to focus on something for some time without interruptions. If constantly interrupted or forced, they are less likely to be creative. Overload can also make students less productive. David Meyer, of the University of Michigan, has shown that people who complete certain tasks in parallel take much longer and make many more errors than people who complete the same tasks in sequence.

The root of the problem is that, although computer processing and memory are increasing all the time, the humans that must use the information are not getting any faster. Effectively, the human mind acts as a bottleneck in the process.

3. Disruptive Future of Work

An unchanging assessment about work is that it is changing. Disruption is a word that usually links with Innovation. We have been innovating since time began and technological change are not new, but changes are now happening at a scale and speed that is unprecedented. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that

“up to 30% of work activities globally could be displaced through automation by 2030, with a midpoint of 15 percent.”

As per the report, humans are estimated to be increasingly exposed to automation — which will bring both opportunities as well as challenges. Students are uncertain about the future ahead. In the future of work — automation and artificial intelligence will replace humans — jobs, as we know them today, will be somewhat obsolete. That’s an obvious worry that affects the decision-making process and makes it difficult for emerging students.

I think I’ve been avoiding it a lot — I’ve thought a little bit about it but there’s only so much you can think about it before you start panicking — about everything!

—  a comment from a Grade 12 student.

I believe the uncertainty and overwhelming excitement about the future, and the ever-changing landscape of work makes students feel disrupted.

4. Personal Factors

There are a lot of factors that can influence Students’ decision-making ability. While growing through adolescence can be difficult — decisions are still required of them. Some factors in the mix include;

1. Value vs. Passion — We’ve all experienced the feeling of conflict, when we have to decide on value proposition offered that contradicts our interests or passions. For example “I would like to be a dance teacher, but the pay isn’t enough to raise a family”.

2. Avoiding decision making — During adolescence, many defaults to the view that it’s easier if someone made choices for you. Students avoid making decisions in hope that it will go away.

3. Multiple interests — Wanting to experience many different things can make the choice harder for students. When I asked a year 11 student what her interest was, she answered — “ I am really interested in a lot of things, like boxing, acting, legal studies.”

4. Fear — Fear of the unknown is often the most difficult to deal with. Students are left wondering whether pursuing a certain course or pathway which will help them get ahead in life, which can build a level of anxiety and fear. Fear of making a bad decision can also influence decision making.

5. Guidance — Poor guidance can contribute to difficulty with decision making. Parents and guardians aren’t always able to weigh-in on future work trends. They find it difficult to provide advice and may lead to a decision made poorly or not made at all.

5. Experience

Students can lack confidence in decision-making abilities due to a lack of experience. According to researchinstiute.org — Students have two kinds of thinking systems, which are referred to as“hot” and “cold”. Both have quite opposite characteristics; Hot thinking is intuitive, automatic, and reactive and Cold thinking helps them learn to analyze, reflect, and integrate complex ideas. Most students in their adolescence develop strong cold thinking skills like reasoning and reflection but lack the experience to conduct hot thinking.

I believe having more experience enhances your decision-making ability. Having an experience in something can change the way we will behave in future decisions. For example, we know not to put our hands in or near the fire once we experience the burn. Once we have experienced a task or an activity we know the process, input and the output, which give us more information for future decisions.

“This is a generation that has been ‘syllabused’ through their lives”, says Martin Artim, vice president at Enterprise, in an article written by The Washington Post. Artim is referring to how often decisions are made for students, leaving them unable to make decisions for themselves.

It is important to be able to play out your career aspirations in real life. Students in Australia are largely ill-equipped to find work experience. Many are confused about where to start, help and resources are spread out, and sometimes it’s left to them alone.

What’s your top piece of advice for making better decisions?