For many of the roles and projects you will be involved in, part of what you need to be able to do is to put yourself in a continuous learning mode. You need information radar that continuously scans for new, quality information that you should be aware of. And certainly, you have to be able to quickly commit it to your metamemory.
Let me start this topic with a word of caution. Most of you reading this are infovores. When you find new nuggets of information, you get a chemical reaction in your brain much like an opium hit. This reaction causes you to seek more information. In other words, you are quite literally an information addict. Be careful about feeding your habit.
Assess Information Sources
For this reason, I always start any new task, project, role with an honest assessment of whether I really need to be actively tuned into information and what information that is.
You should also periodically go back to your top-down strategy, assess your specific information objectives and then make a deliberate assessment of different information sources. Which newspapers, magazines, journals, news sources, blogs should you look at, how often, how high a priority is this?
Also assess current information sources to see which can be removed. Managing your RSS Feeds has some good suggestions on how to do assessment in an ongoing basis using quarantine folders.
With that caution, here are some thoughts on the methods and tools I use as part of my information radar.
A central tool for my information radar is my RSS reader. It allows me to gather information from all kinds of sources (blogs, publications, wikis, calendars, etc.) If you are new to the world of RSS readers and subscribing to blogs, here are some good starting points.
Skim and Remember
In Stop Reading - Skim Dive Skim, I proposed that for most of the information we come across via our information radar, we will not read it. Instead we will, skim, dive, skim. And then quickly add it to our better memory.
Remembering content I've seen via my RSS Reader has changed a bit over the past few years. I used to use Keep New or Favorites to save items that I thought were interesting but that I didn't have time to read or process at that moment. I found that it scattered a big part of my memory into another source, so I've stopped using these techniques.
Thus, while I'm scanning I have three levels of remember ready to apply:
1. Visit Pages - If a post, article, etc. looks like it might ever be worth remembering, then I visit the page and skim it there so it goes into Google History. Posts that you have seen in your reader but not visited are not in Google History. They are searchable via the RSS Reader, but that requires that you remember how your originally encountered the information. I believe I'm better off with fewer places to search for things I've seen.
2. Tag Page - If while skimming the article you visited, it looks like something I might need later (future anticpated information need), then I save/tag it in delicious.
3. Notes / Blog - As I skim dive skim, I often will take notes into working documents or blog posts about anything that is interesting. I do this more to help me process the material. But it also helps to surface it again. Make sure you save a link to the source as well.
For information needs where I want a trickle of information to be coming through and if I miss something "interesting" its not a problem. I'm looking for filtering the content to find the best stuff within a narrow range.
- Aggregator Blogs. These folks scan through content in a given area and point you to the stuff they feel is most interesting. The three that jump to mind in the world of learning and eLearning are: OL Daily, Big Dog Little Dog, and eLearning Learning.
- Delicious Popular. Use delicious popular such as http://delicious.com/popular/elearning this shows web pages that many people are tagging with a particular tag. There is a feed for any delicious page including the popular pages.
For areas where I want to be fairly actively engaged in a continuous flow and there's a greater need to see most everything, I use:
- Google Blog Search - use this to scan for very specific terms and/or links in posts. Unfortunately, it's a bit broken right now and shows you more than you want but a fix is promised.
- Google Alerts - similar to blog search but use this to scan for terms outside of blogs.
- Delicious tags - you can subscribe to a particular delicious tag such as http://delicious.com/tag/elearning2.0 or http://delicious.com/tag/workliteracy or http://delicious.com/popular/elearning
- Twitter - can provide you a flood of real-time, 140 character posts from people who you follow. I'll talk more about twitter in a later post, but in the meantime, before you go and sign up for too much twitter, please read Twitter - Nevermind.
- AideRSS - can be used to limit a given blog or set of blogs to the top few.
For me, blogging fits into more than one category. I'm choosing to put it here as I most often use it as a means of processing information that I come across as part of my continuous learning strategy. It definitely moves beyond a simple information radar and into something more. It also is a big part of my networking and community strategy.
As a starting point
- Start your own blog
- Blogs for Learning Professionals
- Write for Skimming
- Can Find You
- Audience Member
- New Blog
As an alternative to blogging, another option to help remember and process what you are finding through your information radar is the act of taking notes. There are a variety of tools that you can use. I hate to say it, but I still use notepad or Word. Since I rely on desktop search, they work okay for me. My guess is that in another year I'll have a different answer.
Independent of the tool, research shows that the act of taking active notes - not verbatim notes but higher level cognitive notes - while you are receiving information improves encoding. Thus, its fair to assume (though I don't have research proof on this) that while you are skim-dive-skimming active note taking means greater encoding.
Several people have suggested to me that it's significantly easier to take notes on paper while reviewing online. Ummm ... no it's not. Keep a narrow window open alongside your browser that allows you to copy and paste and add your notes. Oh, and make sure you include the URL. I hate it when I find my notes but then have to search for the page again in my bookmarks or via Google search.
By the way, this is the same technique I use when I'm talking to someone on the phone or in a meeting. A narrow window for capturing real-time thoughts works well for me. Oh, wait, am I talking about better memory now or information radar. I guess it's both.
A big part of effective information radar is doing more than just having it temporarily pass by your eyeballs.
It's adding it to memory and processing it appropriately.
Other Posts in the Series