How effectively do we convey information? A small experiment.

While performing lectures on the university for more that a decade,  I’ve learned  that they quickly get boring if just being performed in a “messaging style”. To break the routine and to improve the memorizing of important information, some “sugars” need to be provided to students either in a form of stories, examples, flipped learning, etc. In this manner a small experiment was conducted last week at the initial lectures of the course “Communication methods and technologies” at the “Informatics and technologies of communicating” study program, which is described below.

To break the routine in lectures and to improve the memorizing of important information, some “sugars” need to be provided to students either in a form of stories, examples, flipped learning, etc.

About the experiment

The main purpose of performing the experiment was to provide students a clear insight about how difficult is to convey information effectively – i.e. a message being reproduced on the receiver part as it was anticipated by the sender. Being aware of this is of an immense importance in corporate environments, especially in IT projects, where team members as well customers communicate with each other about complex problems, systems and solutions.

Encoding_communication
Figure: what you thing and say isn’t necessary aligned with what the listener(s) understands

In this manner a simple experiment was performed, consisting of three treatments as presented on the following figure.

MTK_Experiment_01
Figure: three treatments of the experiment

In each treatment a different student got a picture consisting of shapes (see figure above) and his task was to communicate the picture to other students without directly showing it to them.

  1. In the first treatment the speaker has been turned away from the audience so basically only verbal communication was used.
  2. In the second treatment, the speaker was turned to the audience, so he was able to convey information in verbal and nonverbal sense.
  3. In the third treatment, the audience was additionally allowed to ask questions to the speaker.

Each treatment lasted approximately two minutes (the time to communicate the image to the audience), whereas 44 students participated in the experiment (reproducing the image based on the descriptions).

Experiment results and analysis

The three drawings from 44 students were collected, scanned in PDF (attached) and afterwards analysed (attached) by a student (Mr. Domen Leš), who did really a good job. Thank you Domen! On the following three figures are some of the examples on how students reproduced the communicated images.

Diapozitiv26
Figure: first treatment sample responses
Diapozitiv27
Figure: second treatment sample responses
diapozitiv28.jpg
Figure: third treatment sample responses

Data analysis was done by Domen, who performed as follows. For each drawing he counted number of matched shapes, positions of shapes and relative sizes of the shapes.  Finally, average values in the range [0, 5] were calculated. The results are presented on the following figure (the y-axis represents grades which were applied to drawings).

MTK_Experiment_results
Figure: Data analysis results

As evident from the above graph, the results (i.e. effectiveness of communication) improved with each treatment, whereas the linear regression path of average improvements is evident from the graph below. Since students made only few questions in the last treatment, I anticipate that in the case of increased number of questions the results of the third treatment would additionally improve.

Capture.JPG
Figure: average grades of individual treatments

Conclusion

To clearly state some important issues, prior to make conclusions. First, the idea of the experiment is not mine, it was obtained from a communication seminar I’ve attended this year. Second, the experiment did not comply with the exact scientific methodology, whereas internal (e.g. shapes’ complexity, speakers’ efficiency and effectiveness) as well external (e.g. “toy message”) threats might seriously impact the results. However, the students understood the main message of the experiment: it is difficult and not self-evident that a listener will interpret the message in the same way as the sender anticipated, whereas wrong interpretations might seriously impact the (business) decisions made out of communicating. And finally, students liked the teaching approach, showing interest for a more rigorous repetition of the experiment.

It is difficult and not self-evident that a listener will interpret the message in the same way as the sender anticipated, whereas wrong interpretations might seriously impact the (business) decisions made out of communicating.

Supplementary materials:

 

 

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