Monday, February 1

Instruction in a Information Snacking Culture?

There's a trend that seems to be ongoing, but I'm noticing it even more recently. People seem to be spending less time going through information in depth and less willing to spend time on information. We seem to be snacking on information, not consuming it in big chunks.

And it's been something I've been really wondering about on all kinds of levels. I've mentioned before Stop Reading - Skim Dive Skim and that seems to be how people consume blog posts much more these days. I've also noticed a trend towards more twitter mentions of blog posts, but less deep commenting behavior much less thoughtful blog responses.

Inside corporations, there certainly seems to be a continual theme of spending less time on learning activities. In some cases, there's almost an anger about providing additional information to employees.

Thus, for February the question is:


Instruction in an Information Snacking Culture?


There are a lot of aspects to this question:
  • Has there really been a shift? Are people changing their information consumption? Are they really snacking more?
  • Do we need to think about instruction differently? Is it a matter of better design so that people are engaged beyond a snack?
  • Is this a problem? I feel like it's harder to get a deep conversation going, especially in a twitter world. But maybe that's me. How can we effectively work and learn in an information snacking world?
I'm hoping this will actually be a case where we will get beyond snacks to a good exchange because this is something that I'm really wondering about and would like to discuss.

How to Respond:

Option 1 - Simply put your thoughts in a comment below. This may be hard given the complexity of the topic.

Option 2 -

Step 1 - Post in your blog (please link to this post).
Step 2 - Put a comment in this blog with an HTML ready link that I can simply copy and paste (an HTML anchor tag). I will only copy and past, thus, I would also recommend you include your NAME immediately before your link. So, it should look like:

Tony Karrer - e-Learning 2.0

or you could also include your blog name with something like:

Tony Karrer - e-Learning 2.0 : eLearningTechnology

Posts so far (and read comments as well):

29 comments:

angelicsilouette said...

I encourage people at my work to "snack" instead of always looking through a long answer. I send out "Small Bytes" (an email containing one small piece of information that most people would find useful) at least once a month. I try to create "Quick Notes" for any longer demonstration or instruction that I create.

I feel, by encouraging them to dip their toes they may explore further on their own if they want/need to know the information. Sometimes the thought of needing to learn something is so overwhelming people talk themselves out of it. If I can hand it to them in bite-sized pieces, they don't seem to mind as much. As a matter of fact, I often hear, "That was way easier than I thought it would be."

Tony Karrer said...

That's interesting in that I was writing the question thinking from the perspective of - how do I get deeper thinking - am I losing something from snacking. Like that you've immediately jumped on embracing snacking. And great point "thought of needing to learn something is overwhelming" ...

Bill said...

I think expectations have shifted in that people are willing to invest the time if they feel that they will benefit in the end. Your average novel and average movie have actually increased in number of pages and time respectively so people's attention span seems to be healthy.

What I think is shrinking is the length of the "hook" or attention grabber to convince people to focus their attention. If you can't convince people in ten seconds or less why they should pay attention, then it doesn't matter how bite-size the content is.

Related to this is the desire for more interactivity with the content. Even something as passive as reading Harry Potter has an interactive component in that you socialize with other fans, hold role-playing events, and play computer games based on the books and movies.

People's attention spans will stretch any length necessary as long as they feel they are benefiting from the content and they get to interact with the content.

Tony Karrer said...

Bill - having just watched Avatar (2hr40min) yesterday I can see your point, but I'm wondering if there's anything backing this up as opposed to my gut feel that because of information overload we tend to be more selective about which hooks will get us in the door.

Alex Taylor said...

In my opinion there has not been a fundamental shift in how we learn and gather information, rather we are breaking down the learning cycle into much smaller – and more easily identifiable – components.

Our attention span has decreased dramatically so we gather knowledge in much smaller chunks, but the analysis and reflection elements still exist, but just time- and place-shifted in my opinion, so stretching out the learning process.

A second element that is perhaps confusing the picture is how we use learning – we seem to be outsourcing much more of our ‘random-access’ knowledge from our memories to Google et al. This means we need to forage much more often for very short information-rich bites of knowledge, including blog posts – knowledge which we would not necessarily have learnt or wanted to learn a couple of decades ago.

The greatest risk I see in this new learning model is the lack of a systematic reflection technique for new learning, which is key to retention, and the failure to develop interconnections between subjects – processes which have traditionally been guided by teachers in the past. We have become knowledge heavy and reflection poor.

One of the primary reflection mechanisms has become commenting on posts and conversations off-line, but these 2 mechanisms can never be complete, reliable and scalable techniques for assimilating, testing and applying new learning.

Tony Karrer said...

Alex - that's extremely well said and sounds accurate but also seems a bit scary. Do we know how to operate in that world?

angelicsilouette said...

I have made a blog post about this subject - The Big Question - Snacking Culture

Conflicted Runner said...

I'm of the opinion that snacks of learning are as valuable or more valuable than the deeper dive. However, I feel the more in-depth learning is still vital to greater learning goals of "far transfer". I think the snacks or micro-modules can be a great tool for some just-in-time learning or hooking a learner to want to experience more. But, I don't believe a module (at least typically) that is only a few minutes long can prompt far transfer.

Further, I think that most often the reason prospective learners turn away is that the quality of the instruction isn't to the level that intices them to want to continue. Taking the food analogy further, if a snack is really good I want more right then and I likely will think about that snack the next time I'm hungry and tell my friends about it. But the meal is the same way, if my first few bites are good I will continue to eat the rest of the meal. But if the snack or meal is bad I will walk away and find something else.

In summary, I feel we need to concentrate of creating the best learner possible regardless if it is a 3 minute micro-module or an hour long module. Taking the time to consider the audience and create the learning reflect the needs and experience of the audience will produce successful learner events.

hollymacdonald said...

Holly MacDonald:
This is my first time doing the big question, so have just put in a link to my blog post.
http://sparkyourinterest.wordpress.com/2010/02/05/my-first-foray-into-the-big-question/

Eloise said...

My take on the big question

gih said...

how nice that, donald, I've been there.

Ignatia/Inge de Waard said...

Ignatia/Inge de Waard feels better with strutin' content, and taking time for personal learning.

Jooli said...

Reading this blog has been an example of snacking for me.

I am very interested in the post and thoughts it provokes and read down the comments (skimmed) but when it came to links to other blogs I did not use them.

I challenge myself on why and realise that I have all the information I need in one place to be able to reflect on the topic and so I am now 'full up'. Any more snacks might make me feel nauseous so I will leave it there.

This probably means that no-one will read this comment because they will already have enough to think about before they get here.

Interesting insight, thanks.

Jooli Atkins

Tony Karrer said...

Jooli - I did see your comments. And missing the deeper thoughts from the bloggers is a real shame. Lots of great thoughts and ideas.

That worries me actually.

Owen Ferguson said...

A huge topic and one that I've not had time to blog about properly but I think that it links with Tony's thinking on work literacy.

Given that we're being bombarded with information, how do we 'snack' effectively. How do you sort the wheat from the chaff? Howe prepared are we, and the people we work with to function in this new environment?

If we take information at face value, without diving deeper and investigating claims then there's a real danger of memes and myths flourishing unchallenged. Dissent isn't always encouraged/allowed/available in information snacks.

The answers to a few questions about information I receive might prompt me to dive a bit deeper. questions like:
*How do I know I can trust this source?
*How likely am I to rely on this information and to what extent?
*How likely is it that my natural biases are influencing my opinion of this information?

Terry said...

Terry Eberhart - Digin4ed: “On Instruction in an Information Snacking Culture”

Janet said...

Tony -
Great question, and tied to some lines of thought which I'm just starting to pursue. I wrote a blog post in response to your question at Just enough? Or not enough?

RK Prasad said...


Information Snacking Culture

Alex Taylor said...

Coming at this question from a slightly different angle, here's a link to the summary of a survey by the Pew Center - Does Google Make Us Stupid?
The second paragraph seems to tie in with the views in my comment above, but then goes further in its analysis:
http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1499/google-does-it-make-us-stupid-experts-stakeholders-mostly-say-no

Suzanne said...

Suzanne posted at her blog

gih said...

Maybe we could say ""Instruction in an Information Snacking Culture?".. Well, anyways, I really have to eat my snacks to reach the appetite of mine. I do understand about this thing.

Lauren said...

For me, if a long in depth post or even in textbook format information isn't broken down, say into more paragraphs and good use of white space, I will barely read it nor would I even want to engage in its information at all.

Possible more bullet points or outline form would be more intriguing and appealing to the eye as well.

I agree that it's hard to filter out all the unimportant information in a tweet, it's challenging but I enjoy that aspect of it.

ClaudiaE said...

Claudia Escribano - Learning a Little at a Time

RUpadhyay said...

We’ve become an information “snacking” people out of necessity, I feel. We can’t entirely blame a diminishing attention span, but rather an increase in the amount of things we need to do versus time we have to do them. There are never enough hours in the day to devote to learning all the information that we want to learn, so we have to make do with smaller “chunks.” As a graduate student of instructional design trying to hold down a full time job as well as raise a family, I’ve found that even I, a lifetime lover of learning, have had to take in things in smaller, more easily digested bites.
The recent economic conditions seem to have increased this occurrence in the job world. Employers are pushing for much quicker ROI from employee trainings. They want things to happen quickly and with the least amount of interruption from the employee’s day-to-day job. Overwhelmed employees doing the work of multiple people, do not have the motivation needed to fully immerse themselves in taking in any sort of indepth information. Information “snacking” allows people to engage in learning when feeling pull in so many different directions.

Derek said...

I agree with the idea that people are “snacking” more when it comes to learning and absorbing information. Take for example the rapid communication trends over the last few years. Being a grad student, I have found that communication moved from:

•Writing notes on scrap paper in class (about 1-2 pages in length) ;
•To the AOL age of emails(few paragraphs at most)
•And then to instant messaging (few sentences but continuous communication)
•Which has quickly moved to facebook(few sentences to each other every once and awhile)
•And now finally to Twitter(people become followers and communicate based on reading other’s status)

So to believe that society is moving from consuming large chunks of information to selecting a few key points is completely arguable. I tend to extract the key instructions when setting up a new appliance or piece of technology and take the same approach when learning in classes. I feel that in today’s world of mass advertising on websites also makes learners “sift” through material before absorbing the information.

As for the longevity of this “snacking phase”, I believe as all things come and go people will continue to change in their ways of learning. As designers of this instruction I believe it is part of our job to maintain flexibility and match the needs of the learners.

Clive Shepherd said...

A response from Clive Shepherd

Michael Bromby said...

I have a (late) follow-up at Digital Directions Blog

Nick Kemp said...

This is the first time I have come across the term "information snacking ". With the over abundance of information we are exposed to on a daily basis I guess it is logical. And how can see that there would be many benefits to info snaking - time saving etc.

However, like with multitasking there does seem to be a growing void in our ability to concentrate, focus and finish things to completion because of so much information to deal with.

I have this fear that we are giving up more control and power of our minds because we don't exercise them.

I think something like going to the movies is different as it is entertainment. Where we can have a rest from thinking and making decisions.

AJ Lemos said...

Yep. Information snacking is becoming more and more popular as our attention spans become shorter and shorter! No one has time to sort through long articles about this or that. In the age of the internet we want quick answers and easy to understand information, ideally with a picture :). The website infosnacks was built exactly to address this human need of the internet culture. Good information in short bite sized chunks.