Applying Hick’s Law to L&D

I’ve been self-educating myself more in UX design and I came across a concept called Hick’s Law.  Maybe I was drawn to it because the name made me homesick, but I wanted to explore how we can apply this to our learning experiences.

Hick’s Law, also known as the Hick-Hyman Law is named after a British and an American psychologist team of William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman. I’m not sure why Hick’s name continues to stick on this.  In 1952, they decided to examine the relationship between the number of stimuli present and an individual’s reaction time to any given stimulus. Hick’s Law predicts that the time, and by implication, the effort it takes to make a decision increases with the number of options. Behold my very non-fancy chart:

The formula for Hick’s Law is RT=a+b  log2 (n)

Breaking this down, RT is reaction time, n is the number of stimuli present, and “a” and “b” are constraints that depend on the task and condition.  A could be signing into the LMS and b could be finding the correct course to self-enroll in.

Hick’s Law is important when response times are critical. But it’s broader than that when applying this to L&D. For example, becoming the best widget maker takes time to learn how to build the components. By being able to deconstruct the components of the widget, it increases their ability as a widget maker. Hick’s Law works best for fast decisions without grave consequences. Hick’s Law does not apply to complex decision-making or decisions requiring reading, scanning, searching, or extended deliberation.

When response time is critical, keep it simple silly (KISS). Systems with fewer options are almost always rated as easier to use and more satisfying than similar products with more options. This reminds me of selecting faces for feedback versus filling out a survey. It turns out that abundant choice not only slows response time, it often leads to feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration.

Another implication of Hick’s Law is the need for emphasis. When a few items are designed to stand out, like a critical reporting function or frequently used option, you nudge users to where to select so response times can be quickened. This is why you don’t want critical functions like, let’s say, an ejection seat handle in an airplane mixed in with a bunch of other controls. If a pilot needs to eject, they need every millisecond we can give them. Making an option stand out achieves its objective.

Lastly, Hick’s Law underscores the need to reduce noise and distraction in decision-making contexts. This reminds me of Cammy Bean’s “clicky clicky bling bling”. When choices are presented with many distractions, the distractions effectively act like additional choices, slowing response time. This makes our courses full of sludge.

So, what are some instances you should apply Hick’s Law to in your learning experiences?

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What can a past perspective tell us about learning experiences?

As many of you may know, in addition to my full-time gig in ID at The (trademark rejected) Ohio State University, I’m also a Ph.D. student in Learning Technologies.  As I’m finishing up my coursework and transitioning to candidacy, I’ve tried to take some time for reading. This reading is often targeted in the learning technology/education realm and in addition to research articles, I often like looking at books.

I thought I’d start with what I already have so this evening I took a browse in my living room looking at my bookshelf.   A former supervisor often would give me books from his office (he at one time had a Picasso painting on the floor, no joke).   While I appreciated these books, sadly, I often didn’t take the time to take a good look at them. This evening I pulled Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction by Ralph Tyler off my shelf and cracked it open.  I knew this was a gifted book from my previous supervisor due to the Half Price Books sticker on the cover (I’m pretty sure the place was his second home). I opened the cover to check the publication date, 1949. Flipping through the chapters I came across the chapter, How Can Learning Experiences Be Selected Which Are Likely to be Useful in Attaining These Objectives.  As I read the pages, not only did Tyler provide a definition for learning experiences but also general principles. I thought I’d share it with you in hopes of having a conversation about this.

According to Tyler, “the term learning experience refers to the interaction between the learner and the external conditions in the environment to which he can react. Learning takes place through the active behavior of the student; it is what he does that he learns, not what the teacher does.  It is possible for two students to be in the same class and for them to be having two different experiences.”  


A few things stand out to me in this definition:

  • There was no eLearning in 1949
  • I’m assuming “he” was a more general term for people

I’d also like to unpack this definition and share my internal inquisitive dialogue, specifically the external conditions the environment for the reaction.  Going back to my interest in learner engagement, I can see this translating the behavior involved in the learning experience. What are they doing? How is the learner an active participant?  What did these interactions look like? Reading further, Tyler suggests the teacher can “provide an educational experience through setting up an environment and structuring the situation so as to stimulate the desired type of reaction.”  Does this mean that learners can have different experiences in the same conditions?

Now let’s dive into Tyler’s general principles in selecting learning experiences:

#1: “For the given objective to be attained, a student must have experiences that give him an opportunity to practice the kind of behavior implied by the objective”

When I first read this one, I thought it may imply those pesky learning styles that some folks may still believe.  Tyler provides the context in authentic learning, how does this learning objective tie to a behavioral/ performance outcome? 

#2: “Learning experiences must be such that the student obtains satisfaction from carrying on the kind of behavior implied by the objectives”

This one was quite interesting too.  Again, I wonder what Tyler would think about all of the eLearning out there which has the learner constantly hitting next.  What Tyler meant about this one is to know your audience. Make the experience enjoyable. Don’t insult their intelligence. Don’t bore them to death.  

#3: “The reactions desired in the experience are within the range of possibility for the students involved”

Tyler’s intent with this one is the appropriate level.  How can you build experiences that are Goldilocks, just right for the learner? 

#4 “There are many particular experiences that can be used to attain the same educational objectives.

This one alludes to not doing the same thing over and over again.  Challenge the status quo in your learning experience. Keep the learner on their toes. 

#5: “The same learning experience will usually bring about several outcomes”

When learning experiences are crafted with care, outcomes are also multi-dimensional.  This is something I try to do with my work at OSU, I challenge faculty to think about the transferable skills students will get from their class.  What can they learn in this course that helps them in their future career path, no matter where they go?

This is the tip of the iceberg for this chapter as Tyler expands more on these concepts.  What do you think of this? Are Tyler’s perspectives still in line with instructional design?  Sound off below! 

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How to earn comped hotel rooms in Vegas

When I found out that AECT and DevLearn were in Las Vegas this year, I knew I could get some smokin’ deals. And smokin’ deals I found. For the entire trip (Sunday-Saturday) I was able to get my hotel rooms comped. Here is how I did it:

There are four apps I recommend (please know there are others these are just the ones I use) MyVEGAS Rewards, Konami slots, Pop slots, and Wynn slots. The first three (MyVEGAS, Konami, and Pop) allow you to earn credits to use at MGM properties. These credits include food vouchers for buffets, spa passes, and of course the coveted comped room. The properties included are Circus Circus, Luxor, MGM Grand, Park MGM, Mandalay Bay, Excalibur, Aria, and Mirage.

Screenshot of MyVegas rewards

The Wynn Slots game is for Wynn Las Vegas only. Also the rewards are only for hotel accommodations and it says coming soon buffet voucher (I’m bummed this didn’t get unlocked while I was in Vegas) All of these games are virtual slots that do have the option for microtransactions but they provide progressive rewards, meaning if you sign in each day you can get free credits. With tenacity and patience, I am proof you can use $0 of your hard-earned money to earn free accommodations. I’m not going to sugar coat it though, it took me about 9 months to do this. My friend Josh Risser did his in record time though (about a month) but he bets YOLO and I’m very conservative with my betting on the virtual slots.

Here are the pros and cons of the MGM games and the Wynn game:


  • Hotels have a TON of blackout slots. There was a 3-day complimentary stay at The Mirage open but I couldn’t select it for DevLearn. To be honest, I’d say there may be a total of 60 days throughout the year there are opportunities to book a complimentary room with the MGM games.
  • Each time you wanted to use a voucher, I had to stand in line at the MGM player club line at the casino. I cashed in a $25 of free play for the Mirage and stood in line to redeem it to be told I can’t use it since I wasn’t staying there. Also it’s annoying you can’t mass load these on your MGM Players card. You have to do it individually and at each property you want to use the voucher at. This added time to my dinners but the free buffet and buy one get one frees really helped me and my friends out :).
  • The reward offers are extremely inconsistent. I found the best offers to be accessed via MyVEGAS rewards on Facebook. The mobile apps rarely had hotel options.
  • Credits are fairly quickly earned, you earn in increments of 10 after about 15 spins. That might not sound good, but put a pin in this for when I talk about the Wynn.
  • The credits needed for rewards were consistent. About 50,000-80,000 would get you at least<br> one complimentary night in a MGM property hotel and it is usually about 25,000-40,000 for free buffets or buy one get one offers.
  • There are SO MANY pop-ups begging for your micro transactions. Often it would be 2-3 screens before you could actually play. Be careful, it’s easy as you are tapping to accidentally purchase a credit package.
  • Hotel complimentary nights are always Sunday-Thursday only. No Fri/Sat accomodations available for comp.


  • The offers for rewards were not as robust as the MGM games. You can really only use your gems for hotel accommodations. Wynn slots take forever to earn gems. I estimate (depending on how much you wager) that it takes anywhere between 100-250 spins to earn 1 gem. If you decide to be a high roller like Josh Risser (bet more than 1 million credits per spin), you will earn gems much quicker.
  • Wynn slots are not friendly. It is hard to win on them and you have to be careful (in my own experience)
  • There are literally NO blackout dates for Wynn accommodations and the max you can comp out at a time are 4 nights. Instead there is a calendar that tells you the gem count needed to book that room.You’ll notice weekends are more expensive. To book my Friday night at the Wynn, I burned through 5300 gems but my Thursday night was only 2300 gems.
  • The Wynn treated us like straight up VIPs. Check in was so easy, everything was ready for us and my experience was amazing.

So if you want to try this the next time you come to Vegas for a conference or pleasure, here are some of my last tidbits: 

  • To get the most value out of these games, you need to be ok with hotel hopping. I was at the Excalibur Sunday-Wednesday and the Wynn from Thursday-Saturday.If you see something that looks like a good value, get it. 
  • On MyVEGAS you can refund/cancel up to 5 reward purchases within a 30 day period. Plan out your week carefully. For MyVEGAS add in time for standing in the MLife desk line. One time at the Excalibur I waited 30 minutes + to add a buffet voucher to my card.

If you decide to try this for the future, let me know! I hope it helps and fellow economically efficient people, rise up!



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2 Conferences, 5 Presentations, 1 Place: Where to Find Me October 20-26:

October 20-26, 2019 I will be bouncing around Las Vegas between two conferences that explain both worlds I’m currently in. The first is the Association for Communications Education and Technology, a higher education organization focused on research in learning technologies, pedagogy, and instructional design. The second is The eLearning Guild’s Devlearn, a bucket list conference of mine ever since 2010. Between the two conferences I have 5 presentations and I’m accepting an award. I have so many people I want to meet and see so I’m publishing this to help the coordination of schedules, something I’m not the best at.


Ceren and I are on the same flight and we arrive pretty early.  I’m also getting a rental car so we plan on driving around and chilling.  Anna arrives later that evening and we will pick her up and get settled in. 

I will be at AECT in the afternoon/evening for the welcoming reception.  I also have tentative plans to meet up with a possible collaborator on a manuscript about open education resources. #phdlife

I have two presentations at AECT this day related to some work I did over last holiday break:

Assessment of Instructional Design Practices: Evaluating Open Educational Resources: Results of a Collaborative Evaluation of Crowd-Sourced Lesson Plans (1:00PM-1:50PM)

Inspired Professional Learning: A Service-Learning Project to Evaluate and Re-Design OER (4:00pm-5:30pm)

This was a super fun project I worked on as an evaluator.  I evaluated open educational resources for accessibility as well as instructional design elements.  This will be fun because of all of the people involved and all the different institutions represented!

Also at 3:00PM I have a board of directors meeting for Research and Theory division where I serve as the Communications Officer.  I will be handing the torch over to someone else soon! 

Also if I have time I plan to dip into the Kineo event at Devlearn 🙂 


This day will start SUPER early with the Instructional Designers in Offices Drinking Coffee (IDIODC) meetup at Devlearn


After IDIODC it’s Sophia the Robot time!  I’m really looking forward to all the great sessions at Devlearn but I do have to visit AECT for about an hour because I’m getting an award!

At 3:00PM I’ll be at the AECT Learner Engagement Division accepting the Learning artifact of the year award that I share with Sean Hickey! After the award ceremony, I’ll be back at Devlearn!

Also at 7:00PM, there is a meetup at the BeerPark at Paris Casino organized by John Hinchliffe

Here is where it gets chaotic.  I have a presentation at each conference:

The first is at AECT:

Are Instructional Design Graduates Ready for the Real World? (8:00am-8:50am)

This panel discussion features Myra Roldan, Ana-Paula Correia, and yours truly.  The panel is led by my friend Anna Leach.

The second is at Devlearn:

L&D Mystery Series: The Case of the Disengaged Learner (1:15PM-2:15PM)

PS- If you are able to crack the case, you will get a sweet magnet!

Then the moment we’ve all be waiting for, DEMOFEST kicks off Thursday evening!  I can’t wait to actually see everything this time 🙂 

Final presentation time at AECT!

Edtech Mystery Series: The Secret of Learner Engagement (9:00am-9:50am).  This presentation is the continuation of The Case of the Disengaged Learner plus we deep dive into learning analytics with Anna Leach!

Go home to Columbus with a head full of knowledge and hopefully successful in my 100 selfie challenge!  I want to meet as many people as possible 🙂 

So what about you?  What are you presenting?  What are you most excited about?  Who do you want to meet?  Sound off below.  I’m currently a free agent 

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The Top 3 Questions Answered in Microlearning Short & Sweet

**This blog was originally published on Central Ohio ATD’s website but since I wrote it, I also wanted to share it here.** As part of my role as an ATD President, Central Ohio ATD was asked to be part of Karl Kapp & Robyn Defelice’s book tour!  Check out all of the stops and purchase the book to learn more. 

Don’t let the name of the book fool you, Microlearning Short and Sweet does not skip on the content.  In fact Karl Kapp and Robyn Defelice explore so many questions in microlearning, it’s likely you probably didn’t think of many of these questions.  Here are my picks for the top 3 questions answered in Kapp’s & Defelice’s book:

What is microlearning?

You’ve likely seen multiple defintions of microlearning out there but what is microlearning? I appreciated how Kapp & Defelice bring in practitoner’s perspectives in carving out the defintion.  When I think of microlearning, my mind immediately goes to Shannon Tipton and her candy dish anaolgy.  Before coming to their defintion, Kapp & Defelice share many examples of microlearning across the industry.  Here is what they come up with for the defintion: 

“Microlearning is an instructional unit that provides a short engagement in an activity intentionally designed to elicit a specific outcome from the participant.”

Hmm, what does short engagement mean?  What about intentionally designed?  Don’t worry, much like in Kapp’s The Gamification of Learning and Instruction , the defintion is broken down piece by piece. For inquiring minds, short engagement is operationalized as a “singular outcome” and intentionally designed part challenges learning and development professionals to keep the fluff out of crafting the learning experience. 

What are the stages of production that comprise a microlearning development process?

Often learning and development professionals deal with what I call the “fire hose of content”.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing when you are working with a passionate and knowledgable SME, but it can be daunting to think about how to create microlearning from so much content.  Fear not, Kapp & Defelice walk you through the stages of producing microlearning.  The authors share considerations for pre-production, production, and post-production.  One aspect I felt was missing from their considerations is finding champions for projects.  Especially if you are new to microlearning and this is the first time you are implementing it at your organization. I know the ability to do this has served me well throughout my career because if you don’t have buy-in and champions for your learning initatives, they often fail. 

What methods can be used to make microlearning engaging?    

Kapp & Defelice do a great job of walking through methods to improve your learning products.  I’d argue that these methods could be used for multiple types of L&D solutions, not just microlearning.  Some of the methods include clear and concise writing (I recommend the writings of Patti Shank if you are looking to upskill), podcasting, video, simulations, and of course gamification.  The tips in this chapter are solid and provide basic overviews and considerations.  If you want to learn more about any of these topics, check out the ATD bookstore which has many great resources on this techniques as well. 

I hope I didn’t give too much away from Microlearning Short and Sweet. If you consider yourself an emerging L&D professional or do not have a L&D related degree, I think this book would be a great one to add to your bookshelf.  It’s got a great balance of real world examples and practical advice. I’d like to thank Justin Brusino, Karl Kapp, and Robyn Defelice for this opportunity and for a copy of this soon-to-be classic book!

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