Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Using Content Curation as part of Performance Support (Part 2 of 5 – making it worse!)

To try and understand how we could help the staff suffering from Information Overload we did some research and came across Clay Shirky (author of “Here comes everybody”) who states “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure”.  When we looked at the ways in which the staff were interacting with the digital content we realised they were not great at using RSS, tags or even search engines to filter content. To help, we ran webinars, produced quick reference guides and did face to face coaching sessions to try and improve their personal searching for, and filtering of, the information they were attempting to stay on top of.

The result of these activities to increase staff skills with searching and filtering caused more of them to complain of information overload and increased the disengagement with the learning sites.  Argh!

I decided I strongly disagreed with Clay Shirky!  But I found Nicolas Carr the author of the book “What the internet is doing to our brains”.  Carr states that good filtering makes a significant contribution to people’s sense of information overload: “It’s not information overload, it’s filter success”. This made sense to me – I certainly had the evidence for that statement!

Carr identifies two types of information overload:

Situation overload:  “searching for needle in a haystack of information”.  In other words, trying to find a particular piece of information as quickly as possible from a lot of other information.   Imagine going into a library full of books and finding no shelves, no Dewey Decimal system, no librarian, just a pile of books on the floor.  Where do you start to find the information you want?  That’s how finding information on the internet can be if you don’t have good searching and filtering skills.   As Carr points out, search engines and filters help us find web-based information in this situation as do the human powered filters such as Twitter and email if we are connected to the right people.   

But we’d improved the searching and filtering skills of the staff so this was not the overload problem they were suffering from.  It was:

Ambient overload: “a haystack-sized pile of needles (information)”.   What Carr is trying to say here is that we can become surrounded by so much information that is of interest to us that we can feel overwhelmed by the never ending pressure to keep up with it all, take it all in, make sense of it, and harness it.  Carr points out that when our filters work well we get more of the stuff we LIKE and we WANT. 

So the staff were now getting more information that they wanted.  The problem was that the information wasn’t necessarily coming through when the staff wanted it or when they had time for it, so they worried that if they were not in the loop they might miss something vital. 
Next blog:  (Part 3 of 5 - Finding a solution)

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