Some questions from Douglass Johnston via Cass McNutt:
They say that in 1900, we encountered 1000 pieces of significant information per six months. In 1960, it was within one week. Today, it’s within one hour. How much knowledge can we actually retain when our “seven plus or minus two” short-term memories have to constantly filter, direct and trash most of that data?
No doubt, we have an amazing amount of information coming at us (especially those of us who spend way too much of our time staring at a computer screen.) But I think the question is not so much what we can retain (as I would argue we don’t need to retain as much these days,) but rather how much knowledge can we find when we need it. Filter? Yes. Direct and redirect? Absolutely. Weed out? Without question. But I have to tell you, in many ways, if you’re reading this, you’re probably a part of my brain, just as del.icio.us and Bloglines and other tools are becoming. I don’t need to retain all of it, do I? And in fact, I usually retain the most relevant, most important information anyway because I make it more brain sticky by blogging it.
It also begs a question: which is better, the instant access to vast quanities [sic] of lower-quality (on average, that is) information, or the more difficult access to rarer quantities of high-quality information?
Beg it might, but the reality is that most of us (read: our students) are going to have to deal with the vast quantities of average information and, subsequently, become really skilled at vetting, synthesizing and recognizing patterns in what we find. And, I would argue that just about every post here is a result of that work, some more work than others. (I’m amazed, in fact, at just how much of my blog I can retain.)
If you read his whole post, you’ll also see that he refers going to the Web for answers as being lazy and that somehow having to find the answers through books or encyclopedias made the knowledge more memorable. I don’t agree. I see it as using the best tools available to get what you need. Sometimes that’s the Web, other times that’s a book. Neither will do you any good if you’re not skilled at using them.
Johnston asks a final question in his post:
Where, then, will that lead the education system, and how can it adjust to the notion of near-instantaneous research replacing memory?
Yeah…that’s the big one, isn’t it?
John Pederson says
Ever purposefully used Google to find something you said? That was an eye opener for me.
Mark Mathern says
“. . . he refers going to the Web for answers as being lazy and that somehow having to find the answers through books or encyclopedias made the knowledge more memorable.”
I suppose there was a time when memory for it’s own sake had more value than I believe it does now. Considering the lack of options for carrying knowledge around when electronic means didn’t exist made memorizing very important. In this age, however, I wonder if the value of memory must now shift from knowledge (facts) to the application of knowledge. Being able to apply knowledge may be where the “awe” is now, not in memorizing 50 states and capitols.
Another thought: the experience of hunting down information through card catalogs was complicated enough that the effort did make it memorable. When we arrived at the knowledge we sought, the only experience we could anticipate was creating images in our minds with the words on the page. How fortunate we are to transfer the effort of the journey to the actual experience we are curious about. When we arrive at the knowledge we seek (states/capitols, for example), we are given many additional kinds of options to experience that knowledge, e.g. steaming video, url links, podcasts, virtual reality. We remember the end, not the effort it took to get there. MMathern
Art Gelwicks says
It’s facinating to me to look at this kind of issue in comparison to one of the most popular personal productivity ideas out there right now…the Getting Things Done approach by Peter Allen. Peter stresses the “mind like water” approach of capturing everything into a reliable system and not trying to keep everything in your head.
While we are pummeled with information from all kinds of sources it becomes more critical for educators not to teach more facts and figures, but the skills necessary to locate and process these vast quantities of information. Research skills, organizational, and information handling skills are the ones that will make or break our students as they move into the real world. Lets’ teach them to fish rather than dumping a school on them.
Art Gelwicks –WebEdTech.com
Chris L says
While I think there *is* something to be said for the effort needed to find a piece of information making it more memorable, and there are also physical qualities that “book and paper people” are used to that make things seen in print sometimes more memorable than the same items seen on screen, I suspect they’re overrated as memory devices in the light of a certain nostalgia…
I would put that final question a different way: where, then, will that lead the education system, and how can it adjust to the notion of accessible information and resources in such abundance that we *must* supplement our memory with skills in discovering, evaluating, and *re-finding* information in real-time?
I should note that I’m a big believer in the power of memory, that it isn’t stressed enough in our educational system, and that memorizing as a learning activity is underrated both in immediate returns and in its stimulation of other apprehension… but that’s a different issue 🙂
Douglas Johnston says
Great thoughts, all, and I have to say I agree with pretty well all of them.
One of my main concerns as an educator and content developer has always been about how best to keep a person’s attention long enough for them to digest and analyse the information. As I look around, I often see units of data where units of meaning were intended. It was the horrible idea of information retrieval displacing knowledge and understanding that prompted this piece a couple of months ago.
If you’re interested, my response to the thoughts above are in a new post called Three Seconds. My approach is a little different than many, as I’m also coming from the perspective of someone heavily involved in productivity, media production and marketing, as well as education. (The reference above to David Allen’s Getting Things Done, my main organisational system, are therefore landing on familiar ears. 😉 )
all my best,
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a million monkeys typing : http://www.douglasjohnston.net