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Friday, March 21, 2008

Infovore - Need for Information Filtering and Selection

Great WSJ article - Why We're Powerless To Resist Grazing On Endless Web Data (via Will Richardson). The article looks at various information consumption behaviors:
Coming across new and richly interpretable information triggers a chemical reaction that makes us feel good, which in turn causes us to seek out even more of it. The reverse is true as well: We want to avoid not getting those hits because, for one, we are so averse to boredom.

It is something we seem hard-wired to do. When you find new information, you get an opioid hit, and we are junkies for those. You might call us 'infovores.' "

The same thing happens with information as with food. We are programmed for scarcity and can't dial back when something is abundant.
I was just talking about the importance of filtering skills for my ASTD 2008 presentation. Of course, it's a balance. We can't just shut off the flow of information. We have to get better at selection and filtering.


Paul said...

Well, to this subject, I would say blogging can be a serious contributor to this effect. After all, people naturally gravitate toward things they know, and when they find a community of mostly supportive people, they start focusing their time there. Checking comments often, hitting refresh 100x to see what who said next, clicking on links people post.

Wikipedia can be bad for this too, as it can feel like a one-stop shop for info on many topics, especially historical ones.

The rut that people can fall into, with the preponderance of information sources and in addition to the information selection piece, is the quality of the source providing the information. "Information" the word must have a quality to it. There are plenty of examples of those who consume information of poor quality, and few who consume high-quality info.

Tony Karrer said...

Paul - isn't a big part of this how you define quality. While I certainly question validity of certain blog posts - or blog comments :) - I find that reading more general information sources (like Training Magazine for instance) the content is so general and fluffy that often it doesn't seem worth that much time. While we likely would agree it's higher quality generally, if it's not meeting my information "needs" then is that really higher quality?

I think the bigger danger today is limiting yourself to fairly narrow, general information sources. Or actually, I would say the danger is not being aware of what sources there are and actively evaluating your real needs.

Paul said...

I don't think we are in disagreement at all about quality, or the present state of it with regard to training publications. Now, it's possible that what we might see as low-quality info is or seems to be high-quality info for someone just coming into the field. In our case, certain information is already known and the attempts at reformulation of that data into new models seems to be not terribly useful because known data is simply being given a wrapper. On top of that, the fact that these things are usually not tested to the point that they become the things we almost all use - like ADDIE, Gagne's 9 events, Kirkpatrick's 4 Levels - adds to a sea of competing best practices, or sets of them that end up saying the same thing. Of course there are those that have their disagreements with our field's standards.

To my mind, the nature of the field many times generates this complexity because every client is different. They almost all seem to use a different LMS. They almost all use a different mixture of delivery types and technologies. They almost all have very specific and many times legally sensitive information to convey to controlled audiences. They almost all have different internal "training traditions" that must be fought or incorporated. The list continues. I think the field needs to make more of research journals, rather than platforms for communicating the next model to solve a problem.

I hope I'm still on track with my answer. Perhaps I've gone affield a bit.

Tony Karrer said...

Paul - we are far afield - but a good exchange.

You have a pretty apt description of where the publications hit in terms of audience need. And I think we are also agreed that the needs of most people who have been in the field for any length of time is to figure out what applies to their particular situation.

I'm not sure I get that this means I get more value from research journals. Often, I find that these are great from a theoretical standpoint, but often very far from knowing what it means in practice and particularly from the specific situation I find myself in.

This is why I see promise in much more targeted discussions that can occur in the Long Tail. Not sure I buy that any current vehicle works all that well for this, but still there's more value to be found in some blog discussions than in many mainstream publications.

And you are right - the real question is "what's my definition of quality" - and the answer is based on your particular needs. So, real advice is to step back and evaluate what you are really getting from your sources.

Unknown said...

This is a great article. I enjoy it when modern brain science meets technology. 

For the last six years, I’ve designed training for sale representatives in both the pharmaceutical and technology world. It’s frightening to think that I have more access to information in a few hours then those before me had in a life time.

Information over-load is a learning barrier to many of the designs I create meaning there is large amounts of information just waiting to be consumed and my learning audience is over-whelmed. I believe that most of us want to know when we’re “full” and have consumed a sufficient amount of information before going out into the real world to do our jobs—we need to grow our confidence as well as our learning.

In my current position at a large software company, many people I serve have the information they need to be successful—and we have a mountain of information-control tools at our finger tips. My job as a designer is to show a clear path to competency not just in giving learners enough information but raising their confidence that what they have just enough to do a stellar job. I worry that the oceans of information we have today along with the ever-changing technology drown out the “people aspect” of learning.

Tony Karrer said...

"Most of us want to know when we are 'full' ..."

What a great insight. That's always been a bit of an issue for real world problems, but given that information (and people) are so much closer today than 20 years ago - it's much harder to feel full. The question of "when am I done" is harder to decide today because it's so easy to search just a bit more, consume just a bit more.

If you have to go out, hunt, kill, skin, cook your next meal - it's easier to decide you are done than if they bring you a desert menu and bring the desert to your table.

Is there anything else to it than that?

Also, I'm not quite as concerned about the case when you can control the teaching - you get to decide what's enough. I'm more concerned about the case when they go out and have to fend for themselves. When has the sales person done enough research on the new company? How much do they need to do to stay up on industry news? Who helps them do this? How do they decide?

V Yonkers said...

One thing my students in international marketing found out very quickly was that most of the information on the internet are just regurgitation of one or two reports. The fact is, the man in the field will look at a few key sources in the industry to keep abreast. I found with myself and my colleagues, that often we give ourselves a time limit. There can be no perfect information. Rather, we have 15 minutes to make a decision and we will stop after that 15 minutes. Then once the decision is made, on to the next task. My father was the president of a steel company, and this was his (very successful) method. Educated guesses based on his own experience and knowledge of the industry, along with how ever much information he could gather in a limited time period (both informational and expert insights), then letting go once the decision was made.

This is the one thing I think many students transitioning to the work place have difficulty with. They want the perfect information and do not feel comfortable stopping until they have it. This just is not possible in the workplace. What I try to teach them is how to make a decision with the best possible information they have on hand, taking into consideration that there may be better info out there, but they have to let it go.