The human mind is a great device that processes information quickly and efficiently. However, its attention span is getting shorter, particularly given the ever-growing demands of various data streams on this rather limited commodity. With the world of information growing at a rapid rate, managing information and knowledge has become ever more complicated.
Some claim that the Internet has all the information people need and that search engines allow people to reach the right information with the click of a mouse. However, it is not as accessible as it is manifest. There’s a lot of information lying deep in the Web that users may never reach; search engines might only present 1 percent of what is available out there. Also, search engines can manipulate searches and push certain results based on a vested interest. They may not always offer information that solves a problem and is in the user’s best interest.
Learners need not only a system of storing relevant and soon-to-be-relevant information, but also something that allows them to structure this information in a way that they can explore based on subjects and topics so that they can tap into the comprehensive knowledge that they collect and others contribute over time.
These methods need to be collaborative. Learning never stops. Collecting information and the gathering of knowledge pieces also never stops. Hence, learners need a system that allows them to not only collect and organize information, but also dynamically update and curate it. It should allow them to record their own insights about, and responses by others to, a particular thread such that it remains tied to the concerned topic and its organization tree. It also should be accessible in real time.
To ensure people do information work effectively and manage it as they go along, learning leaders need to solve the issue of information overload versus limited attention spans at four levels:
1. Getting people together and making them interact in an uninterrupted and friendly environment: This is getting better and better with various communication tools, and social computing has made it much more convenient and simple.
2. Providing people with simple and smart tools of expression, enabling them to express themselves without any binding requirement of formal submission of ideas: It could be a quick answer to a question, a couple of lines of disjointed reaction to an ongoing discussion, a pointer to a particular source, and so on. The demand and insistence on formal presentation of ideas may prevent people from expressing themselves — though they might have ideas and techniques to solve problems. Now tools of expression can be made democratic, open, simple and smart to allow people to collaborate.
3. Helping people access comprehensive knowledge on a topic or subject: This should be structured in such a way that it makes information discovery opportune and just-in-time, leading to enhanced assimilation of knowledge and improvement in working with available materials.
4. Allowing people free expression when they want to comment, update and curate the various items in a comprehensively organized topic: This gives learners the ability to dynamically update content with insights and perspectives and further construct a topic with the latest information and discussions to complete the cycle of collective learning and collaboration.
Social computing tools will have to go beyond just allowing people to share what they are doing and thinking. They also should help people express themselves in whatever way they like. Additionally, they should boost the contributed information structure itself in a way that it becomes easily accessible and leads to the creation of a comprehensive body of knowledge on a topic or subject.