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Decision Support for Distance Learning Solutions: Help is Online

A few weeks ago I attended a conference where, as with many of the conferences I attend, people from different colleges and universities were trying to discover the best solutions for their institutions as they move their distance learning activities onto the Web. When the sessions ended for the day, I rode back to my hotel on a bus and began listening to the conversations going on around me. This is what I heard:

Conference attendee in window seat: “ my president asked me for a list of the companies that could provide the services we needed. I used the Web and everyone I knew to get that list together. I wrote descriptions of the services each one offered, and estimated what our costs were likely to be, given what we actually needed—or at least what I thought we needed after the last dean’s council meeting. I wrote up this extensive document and gave it to him. It was a really thorough and good report. He promised me an answer within a week. But, do you know what the president did? On the Thursday afternoon before he was supposed to make his decision, some sales guy came to his office and convinced him that his was the best company to do the work. The president never even looked at my report, and the company he chose is one of the most costly, yet it can only do three-fourths of what we need. I’ll bet that salesman offered him good seats to some exotic event to clinch the deal!”

Conference attendee in aisle seat: “How many companies did you put in your report?”

Window seat: “Well, there were at least 23. Not all of them could really do everything we needed, but I included so many because I wanted to do a thorough job.”

Aisle seat: “Do you want my view of what went on?”

Window seat: “Sure.”

Aisle seat: “Well, studies on decision making show that when you give someone too many options to choose from, plus a deadline, he or she usually freezes and is likely to choose the last one mentioned.”

Window seat: “So how many is too many?”

Aisle seat: “It depends, but three to five seems to be OK.”

Window seat: “Oh, man, I blew it with the 23 choices, didn’t I?”

Aisle seat: “Yeah, probably. Too bad you didn’t have one of those Web-based decision tools for buying digital cameras or picking out a breed of dog. You are asked questions about what you like, and it helps you narrow down your choices.”

At that point, the bus came to my stop and I hurried to the door. What should I have said to those folks? I wish I had told them about Bruce Landon’s online delivery software decision tool ( Well, they probably wouldn’t have welcomed the intrusion.

About the Author

Sally Johnstone is founding director of the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications (WCET) and serves on advisory groups for state, national, and international organizations to help plan and evaluate eLearning projects.

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