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The Google effect: How does it affect the way we learn?

Google is one of our most important sources of knowledge. It has also made the knowledge available from anywhere, and at all times. Has it also changed the way we learn? And has it been a positive change, or has it made us dumber?

Since its launch in the beginning of the 21st century, Google has been ranked as one of the world's strongest brands. So strong that the company name has become a verb explaining what their product helps us do; to “google” something means that you search for something on the internet using a search engine. With constantly improved search algorithms, most web pages in the world are being indexed by Google today, and are available for anyone to find. This has led to the fact that Google is one of the most important sources of knowledge for many of us.

How does this affect our brain? Does it lead us to relate to knowledge in a different way than before? These were some of the questions a group of researchers at Columbia, Harvard and Wisconsin University tried to answer in their study “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips”.

The study shows, among other things, that we have a tendency to search for the answer to a question even if we actually know the answer. It also shows that we to a great extent learn where to find the information rather than the information itself. This has led many to wonder: "Is the accessibility making us dumber?"

In this article we will not focus so much more on that specific question, but we want to highlight that the study shows that this way to acting actually seems to free up our capacity for more creative thinking. Instead, let us take a look at how this can (and should) affect how we enable learning in the working life, because it is actually here the method of Performance Support enters. Performance Support is explained by many as a “game changer” in the learning world. What is it that makes it so different? Well, the most important difference, in relation to more traditional forms of education, is that you change the mindset from thinking that educational courses are the most important learning arena into thinking that learning material instead should be accessible to the employees to make their work days more efficient. The idea is to achieve the same efficiency in the working life as in our spare time – to be able to find any information or knowledge you need through a quick search, just in the time of need.

Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson are two of the educators whom have been working the longest with Performance Support. They have been looking at the working situation as a whole and have defined the moments when we need to learn something. They call these the “Five Moments of Learning need”. Several moments are closely related to the actual execution of work tasks.

The five moments are:

  • When we need to learn something New.
  • When we need to learn More about something.
  • When we need to Apply what we just have learned.
  • When we need to Solve a problem.
  • When we are facing a Change.

Read more about the “Five Moments of Learning Need” here.

 

One of the moments that the Google Effect has a positive spin on is Change. Changes are often seen as hard to achieve. What we do on a regular basis becomes a habit, and after some time we are set to “auto pilot”. Most people have certainly experienced situations of automation, such as when we drive our cars on routes that we often take without even thinking about the driving, since we know the way so well.

we encounter the same phenomenon when it comes to tasks during a work day. When things then change, we need to actively unlearn what we know, in order to learn the new way of working. The more the knowledge is imprinted in us, the harder it is for us to change it. All these imprinted ways of working need an active process of change. But the majority of our tasks are not autonomous. These are things that we need to learn more about, and that we might just have learned during an educational course, by asking a colleague or by our own experience.

Working on those kind of tasks becomes easier to change with the help of the Google effect and when we work with Performance Support in the organisation. When the knowledge we need is easily accessible when we need it, we no longer have the need to study it or try to remember how a task should be performed. It is enough to know where we can find the answer and take a minute - just there and then - to understand how it should be done. Then it also becomes easier to perform the task correctly each time, even if the way of doing it changes. Working this way, you could replace many educational courses with Performance Support. And the courses that are being held can be supplemented by Performance Support as an available source of knowledge in the working day.

Introduktion till InfoCaptionThe chart above shows the difference between the purpose of traditional courses and Performance Support.

Changes in systems, routines and processes are something we constantly need to be ready for in our work days. One example of this is how Webcruiter’s customers are using their system. Webcruiter is a web-based system for recruitment, with more than 1400 customers over 50 countries. Most of their users use the system unregularly. It is either when they, once or a few times a year, are recruiting a new employee or when a person searching for a job is uploading their CV. When the use is that sporadic, it is a waste of time and brain capacity to try to remember how the different phases of recruitment should be performed in the system. In all likelihood, the interface may have changed since the last time you did the same thing, or the whole process may have been simplified in some way.

Webcruiter has solved this by creating guides and manuals that are made available through Performance Support – with as few clicks as possible away from where the users usually are in the system. The guides are then updated when a change is made in the system. The fact that the guides are being played several thousand times each day, and that they get feedback from the customers such as “world class support” confirms that this has been a great success for Webcruiter. This has also minimized the amount of incoming tickets to their support.

This is why Performance Support has gained all the great attention of beeing big change in how we look at knowledge. But maybe is it more about that we have begun to do as the smartest of us already always have done? I once heard an anecdote about Einstein. After one of his lectures some students asked him if they could call him whenever they had questions. “Of course”, he answered, and started to search for a notebook in his backpack. From the book, he read his phone number, and the students asked him, a bit surprised, if he did not remember his own number. Einstein answered: “Never memorize something that you can look up!”

 

 

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Morten Spaniland InfoCaption

Morten Spaniland