In the past, information consumption was overwhelmingly passive, with telephone being the only interactive medium. With the arrival of the Information Age, a new form of data consumption was experienced.
According to a 2009 Report on American Consumers, ‘How Much Information’, because of computers, a full third of words and more than half of bytes are now received interactively. Reading, which was in decline due to the growth of television, tripled from 1980 to 2008, because it is the preferred way to receive words on the internet.
Along with the rest of society, students began to use the internet to explore websites and research material, obtain access to niche experts, publish articles, read & disburse news, and socialize and share information, all at a very rapid pace.
As a result there was a sudden spike of both information being produced, as well as an increase in channels to receive information such as emailing, messaging, chats, feeds and blog posts. Newer technologies allowed users to receive alerts for every new bit of information, merely minutes after it is published.
Adapting to Excessive Information
Today while more data is reaching us faster, our capacity to absorb and process this information has limitations. Rather than reading long passages of information, users merely “scan” for information, prompting web writers to group chunk information into smaller, consumable portions.
According to Wikipedia, chunking is a method of presenting information which splits concepts into small pieces or “chunks” of information to make reading and understanding faster and easier. Chunked content usually contains bullet lists and shortened paragraphs with increased usage of subheads and scannable text, and bold key phrases.
Trends in Information Consumption
Today our expectations for information equals our need immediate gratification. We want to-the-minute updated information and content, in an easily consumable form.
It is therefore not surprising to see new forms of information consumption (and disbursal) have evolved to keep pace.
Social networking sites like Facebook, enable users to update status messages which are usually short sentences and can include images, links and videos. This allows users to quickly post updates and share common points of interest with their related networks, peers and friends.
Twitter is another popular case study of how the world is changing its method of information consumption. With messages limited to 140 characters, Twitter is today more commonly used as a source of information disbursal rather than a social networking medium.
Education & Content Consumption
In the field of education, content chunking is not a new concept. In his information processing theory, Miller (1956) presented the idea that short-term memory could only hold 5 to 9 chunks of information where a chunk could refer to digits, words, chess positions, or people’s faces.
Chunking coincides with the natural way the human mind functions while taking in new information and applying stored information to new situations. And organizing information into small, manageable pieces so they can be presented on a single screen, takes advantage of this feature of human cognition (Shirk, 1991).
Mobile Learning Bites
Mobile learning brings together the limitations of small screen display with the understanding of how today’s users consume information, to publish learning material in the form of “knowledge nuggets” or “learning bites”.
Examples of this type of microlearning include reading a paragraph of text, listening to a podcast or educational video-clip, viewing a flashcard, memorizing a word, vocabulary, definition or formula, selecting an answer to a question, answering questions in quizzes etc.
By delivering learning content in small, consumable portions, mobile learning enables educators to supplement mainstream education through a method of quick review and research.
Mobile learning therefore facilitates an easier and natural way for student’s to consume information consumption, one that’s works well with human memory and today’s shorter attention spans in a noisy and crowded information world.
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