Friday, December 2

The scarcity of attention rule

Fred Wilson, a well known VC, covers on his blog a topic that I think is very relevant to the field of learning:
The overabundance of information leads to a scarcity of attention

"What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it." (Computers, Communications and the Public Interest, pages 40-41, Martin Greenberger, ed., The Johns Hopkins Press, 1971.)

Wow, that is a very very interesting statement.

Only several years ago there were not a lot of online courses available. Since then the technology has matured to the point where almost anyone can create and publish content (just look at blogs!). Now companies have access to libraries with thousands of courses. But all to often I see people searching Google first, looking for answers and getting thousands of search results (informal learning) or having mind-numbing access to those thousands of online courses through enterprise libraries (formal learning), both of which are resulting in a quick-hit, good luck knowing how 'right' the answer is, learning experience.

Frankly it scares me how many people take the Internet at face value. Yes, Google, Wikipedia, blogs etc are all great sources but there is little in way of context to help judge it's value.

But on the other hand I find myself not really needing to 'learn' something but rather 'find and discard' an answer, knowing that I can always dig it up again later if need be. Heck my world seems to be changing so quickly that I'm lucky if I can find the answer to my question in one place as I often have to pull it together from several sources.

Jay Cross says that 80% of learning is informal and I wonder how much of that informal learning is being done by Internet searching. Maybe the first course every person should take should be on effective online search techniques and how to assemble knowledge from multiple sources of varying quality.

Do you agree?
- is there simply too much information, stored in containers like courses, out there? (is Google the new incarnation of the learning object repository?)
- How do we in the learning industry prune away the excess but still ensure that it is relevant to each learner and not overly generic? (is it our job to do the pruning or do things like tags, social networking and RSS enable each learner to do the pruning their own way)
- if learning is now truly able to be continuous then how do we create effective learning experiences that can span across multiple delivery mediums independent of time? (anything published on the Internet will last forever especially with search engine caching)
- are we to become knowledge navigators to our learners? (equipping our learners with tools versus content like courses and saying 'the answer is out there, now go forth and find it'?)

1 comment:

Trace Urdan said...

I think you're on to something Ben. The role of the "learning industry" has always been, in a sense, to help learners navigate: to put the right SMEs in front of the right audience at the right time, in the most effective way.

Since I make a living sifting, scrounging, parsing, and ultimately re-presenting information, I think the situation is less grim than you imagine. Yes there is a lot of drek, but an information seeker is rarely coming completely unarmed, and the rapid sorting through of the data brought forth by Google is I think not so unmanageable. The richer tool for me by far is Google Desktop and I think that's where the answer lies, for that allows you to access a subset of your own pre-screened data -- when you can find that piece of information a second time and put it together with some other piece of information is when you really start to get some leverage.

I see no reason why the capabilities implies by Google Desktop could not be applied to corporate servers where the SME data might be chaotic and inconsistently represented but ultimately pre-screened and easily searchable.