Monday, October 18, 2010

New Insights into 21st Century Information Sources and Organizations

There is an emerging discussion about how individuals cope with the flood of information sources that are available at present. I recently wrote a white paper that highlighted the importance of understanding the ways in which individuals in an organization select and use sources of information, and how an individual's "information habits" are an important dynamic in creating meaningful skills development programs in the workplace. Harold Jarche has spent a lot of time over the last 18 months thinking about something that is a central theme in my paper: Personal Knowledge Management, or PKM (a simple description can be found here, PKM in a nutshell). Harold has a great series of posts on this that I highly recommend anyone to review, if just to understand their own methodology and organization skills.

There have been several studies about how individuals select, process, and use sources of information on both a personal and professional level. Here are some of those studies:



Heo & Cho (2009)

Study of 300 media users in print-oriented, mediocre-passive, and video-audio groupings.

Stefl-Mabry (2005)

Through observing that there is a heavy reliance on self-reporting in research subjects, Stefl-Mabry asks the question: “ respondents ‘know’ themselves?”

Zhang, Zambrowics, Zhou, & Roderer (2004)

The researchers study how a range of professionals in a medical environment perform various activities like searching and research using an internal portal.

Byrne & Bates (2009)

Study of a virtual learning environment at University College Dublin shows that learning environments need to foster communication and connections between learners (p. 136-137).

Kink & Hess (2008)

Study of the use of search engines for information versus traditional paper-based media like encyclopedias by people aged 14-66.

Flynn, Smith, & Freese (2006)

Study finds that variations in one’s “psychological and health characteristics” could be determining factors in when an individual seeks information online about their condition (p. 1298-1300).

Mikulincer (1997)

Shows that adults receive and process information best in “secure attachment” environments (p. 1226).

The model of individuals selecting information sources - particularly those on the internet - has been around since the very late 20th century, and continues to diversify in the 21st with more options. But potentially complicating our understanding of individual information habits is another new discussion that impacts the question I based my white paper on, is the notion of new technologies - foremost of which being Facebook - that shift the dynamics of our personal interactions with information to curation. Steve Rosenbaum of discusses this phenomenon in a Huffington Post editorial, and WIRED has also been discussing curation for a while. Tony Karrer has also had some good Facebook updates about curation.

So what does it mean to a modern organization if each worker has different methods of selecting, processing, and using information sources, and curates their own content? This means that, as Mr. Jarche points out, individual "sense-making" is likely to be different for each person, but that each person must pass through that step in order for new knowledge to be useful for them and others. The question ultimately becomes: How does a WLP professional, ensure that a group of stakeholders arrives at the same general point in their development? How do I help generate a common understanding of material in that group's scope?

My central concern is, what does this emerging paradigm mean for workplace performance? The trends appear to indicate that individuals will increasingly have to develop skills that allow them to navigate the cascading volumes of information available in their field. In fact, development of an effective PKM system that is then curated could become a central measure of a person's information literacy not just in their professional group, but in the workplace. Extrapolating further out appears to have implications for a person's overall performance and development in a given environment.

The next step is to understand how the current trend may be beginning to map to professional development goals, and also how it functions within modern training designs.

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