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Too Much Information?

Sep 27, 2016
You’ve probably seen, or said in exasperation, the expression TMI. Too much information! That’s an understandable response in these days of 24/7 cable news and incessant email and text alerts. 

As I write, the people of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are again desperate for information. For the third time in a little more than a month, this community has been challenged by events beyond its control: first, protests in the wake of a shooting; then the killing of three law enforcement officers on a lazy Sunday morning; and now historic flooding, the result of a storm with no name that required the relocation of thousands from their homes. In each case, citizens have been dependent on local television and social media not only for developments but for information about how to stay safe.

And in each case, as we locals watched events unfolding at familiar locations, we learned that the nation was watching as well. In Baton Rouge we watched to avoid roads that were closed or blocked, and we watched the water’s path. The title of a favorite novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was never so palpable. You watched in empathy and compassion even as you tried to comprehend our situation, possibly feeling as helpless as we. You sought information from us: how had we fared, what did we need, how could you help.

Is it possible in such a tragic situation for there to be too much information? Certainly not in the near term, no matter who or where we are. 

There’s a difference, however, between information and learning. Learning is a process in which a learner engages information, culls and considers it, finally integrating it into her knowledge bank before using it to advance further learning. 

A study conducted in fall 2015 and released in March 2016 by the Pew Research Center looked at Americans as learners. While we in Phi Kappa Phi like to speak of ourselves as lifelong learners, it turns out most Americans feel they are as well. Pew found that 73 percent of adults consider themselves lifelong learners —74 percent personal learners who have pursued activities to advance their knowledge base, and 63 percent professional learners, full- or part-time workers who pursued work-related training or expertise in the past year.

You may be surprised to read that most of this learning did not happen online. By far, interview respondents reported their personal learning experiences took place at an actual physical locale, such as a school, church, or library. Even those who reported professional learning did so at a work-related venue rather than online, despite possessing appropriate technology to do so.

And while the reasons respondents pursued learning varied, the primary reason cited was to make their lives more interesting or full, or to help them help others. People are looking for opportunities to grow as individuals. In seeking information, they’re expressing curiosity.

The Pew study, with its focus on what they call “the joy and urgency of learning,” is worth a read [Pew Research Center, March, 2016, “Lifelong Learning and Technology”]. Pew concludes: “The rise of the knowledge economy, the growing imperative to learn and the proliferation of educational platforms have combined to make America a nation of learners.” The love of learning really does rule.

Too much information? Not necessarily. It’s what you do with it that counts. What learning might follow the recent tragic devastation in Louisiana? 
 

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