Polyunsaturated facts

Warning: this post may contain traces of disturbing words and sentences that are unsuitable for those who are allergic to change in education.

During the week I came across this blog post on Info-snacks, which made an interesting analogy between the intake of information and food. Essentially the author suggests that the increasing online availability of small chunks of easily digestible facts and figures is potentially at the expense of a series of ‘proper meals’ that form part of a ‘sensible diet’. Now I’m the first to admit that being able to rapidly search for and discover some fascinating fact can be surprisingly satisfying, possibly even more so than eating a Cadbury’s Chocolate Egg, and for substantially much less effort than having to sit down for months on end consuming a course in some rich, over-egged esoteric academic banquet and facing the prospect of an examination at the end in order to gain a certificate that will probably mark me as ‘over-weight’ to most prospective employers.

With the rapidly increasing range of easily available motivational Scoobie Snacks such as blogs, posts and a variety of Pick’n’Mix tweets it seems almost inevitable that the young will start to opt for info-bites rather than a desire to acquire an in-depth knowledge and understanding.

At the same time, in a related post, comes the suggestion of something called ‘Just In Time’ learning. In industry Just In Time (or JIT) is a management tool for cutting costs through setting up efficient work-flow processes, so that components for the assembly line through to deliveries to the consumer arrive exactly when needed. In a similar way, JIT learning would presumably deliver exactly the right information to you on your hand-held device at the right place at the right time. Knowledge becomes something that is provided on a strictly need-to-know basis.

What the anticipated growth in Info-snacks and JIT learning have in common is that they both question the established approach that knowledge and understanding of the world is something to be bulk force-fed and absorbed in one’s school and college days. Unless we change our approach to formal academic education courses, learners will increasingly turn to rejecting traditional forms of learning in favour of readily available, easily digestible, instantly forgettable fast-facts. And, as with the need for more healthy eating, it’s not a simple matter of ‘banning’ crisps and fizzy drinks, it’s about educating people how to develop good learning habits and to only consume high-fact information snacks in moderation. Remember everyone: ‘Information snacks between meals can spoil your appetite for real learning?’ There are times when a quick snack is appropriate to keep you going, and times when you need to sit down to a proper meal.

However, there’s one aspect of information snacking that has not so far been mentioned. Just as eating is essentially a social as well as nutritional occasion, so is learning. And it may just be that if these frequent information snacks are shared in some way across social networks that the collective and collaborative experience of the participants will ultimately provide a depth and breadth of learning that begins to transcend traditional methods of teaching and learning and produces a completely new approach to the whole process of education that is actually appropriate to the 21st Century.

Maybe then we’ll even start to read reports in the e-newspapers raising concerns about binge education?