I facilitated a videoconference this morning on the first five of ten “Powerful Ingredients for Blended Learning” as part of the Tandberg Connections program. The “digital ingredients” we discussed were:

  1. Social Bookmarking
  2. Collaborative Document Writing
  3. Synchronous Conferencing
  4. Online Photo Sharing
  5. Minimal Click Digital Storytelling

I recorded the audio from the session and will try to publish that soon in my podcast channel. The Keynote slide deck is available on SlideShare, although we only got through half the 91 slides during the 1.5 hour videoconference.

During the class, one of the participants asked how to best cope with TMI: Too Much Information? How do we cope, and how do we help our students and other teachers cope? Kevin Washburn wrote about this yesterday in his post, “TMI! Information Overload and Learning.” He observed:

We can maintain a quick and steady pace when we enter information into a database or spreadsheet, simply pushing “return” or “tab” to move to the next entry, but the brain is not a computer. It has limits. Data funneled endlessly through the senses prevents the processing required for learning… But TMI floods the brain with data, preventing comprehension and elaboration, and thus, preventing learning. Jonah Lehrer suggests the danger of too much information is “it can actually interfere with understanding.” Why? Because the brain has a do-it-yourself attitude toward learning.

Kevin cites Daniel Willingham who observes:

Good teachers design lessons in which students unavoidably think about the meaning or central point.

Karen Montgomery and I are writing a book on “Powerful Ingredients for Blended Learning” precisely because it IS so easy to be overcome by TMI when we face the multiplicity of web 2.0 tools. Consider the current visual list of education applications from the website “All My Favs.” I’m overwhelmed just looking at these choices!

All My Faves | Education

How do you deal with TMI? I certainly don’t have the answers here. I want to be a GMail Ninja, but I’m a LOONNGGG way away from successfully managing just email currently. Google Reader, Diigo/Delicious, my blog and Twitter account are my best friends when it comes to filtering, accessing, sharing and collaborating with digital information today– but I’m the first to admit things ARE overwhelming and it’s easy to get overwhelmed in the sea of information. Here are the best suggestions I came up with today in reference to TMI:

  1. Start small and take small steps. Social bookmarking and collaborative document writing are great places to begin.
  2. Remember not to focus on tools and jargon. As David Jakes says well, online tools provide “a new context to read, write and communicate.” Focus on the communication, not the jargon.
  3. Focus on examples which can help learners experience personal epiphanies related to digital tools and collaboration. What you’re looking for are comments like, “You mean I can…..” or “Does that mean when I teach ______ we could ______?” Those are signs of “comprehension” and “elaboration” which Kevin Washburn referenced in his post yesterday. Without those signs, we may risk overwhelm due to TMI.
  4. Taking time to discuss, ask questions, and have conversations is essential. There are always LOTS more topics to discuss than we have time to address in a face-to-face meeting or class. We need to be “ok” with not “covering all the material” in a face-to-face learning space. It’s better to address fewer topics and have more meaningful, personally relevant conversations about those topics than “cover it all” and leave everyone feeling like they just got squashed by a steamroller.

Getting to work on a Steamroller

This is one of the best aspects of “blended learning,” we no longer have to “cover it all in class.” After class, we have asynchronous ways to share content and interact.

Dr Richard Swenson’s book, “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives” is one of the best books I’ve read to date on dealing with information overload. I wrote about this in the following past posts, related to this topic:

  1. Reflections on interruptions, stress, and craziness (March 2004)
  2. Snow Days are the Best Days (Feb 2005)
  3. More recess, fewer tests, structured activities, and homework please! (Oct 2006)
  4. Creativity, Interruptions, Boundaries and Leadership (Jan 2009)

What tips do you have for dealing with TMI, both personally and as you work with students and teachers?

Hat tip to Shannon Force for telling me about AllMyFavs several months ago. More information about this videoconference PD opportunity (including a scheduling form) is available on the CILC website.

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On this day..

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  • CraigM

    Wes,

    Accept – I accept that there is too much information (TMI) and that I will not get to see most of it. I choose what I follow and allow that I will miss much. I concentrate on knowing how to find what I need, when I need it. (Just in time information… JITI)

    Solicit – When I need help finding something, I solicit help from my friends and community. One great thing about social networking is that help and opinions are never very far away.

    Concentrate – I concentrate on the stuff that I find fun and rewarding. Sometimes it’s “on topic” and career oriented. Other times it’s just fun and random.

    Rather than living in fear that I’m missing important stuff (which I am) I revel in what I do know and can learn.

    Cheers!

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Great suggestions, Craig. I think “accept” is really a key one. I like your word “revel” as well- it is wonderful to have the opportunities we have to dip our hands/minds into “the river” of content being shared now, and learn something new as a result. This is a different way of thinking about content and learning, but a necessary shift given the realities of TMI.

  • http://sites.google.com/site/editinghelpsite/ Leyton Roberts

    TMI is right! But aren’t we ready for it? Isn’t technology pushing out the tools? A few questions that come to mind are,”Does this improve business? make more real money(products) or fake money(advertising services) as in the 1990s and 2000’s? Is it good to have a constant stream of info on anything or everything from everybody or anybody? Are there more important things to learn or experience in life and is this what life’s about? I also wonder if the underfunded educational system will catch up. it seems like it finally did with Web 1.0, but 2.0 is in full swing now. I personally loved the AllFaves site. Awesomesauce as my 7th grader says! Organized Eye candy. Ym.

  • http://www.workliteracy.com Tony Karrer

    Great post and tough subject. I think what you are describing is not just Too Much Information, but also a likely growing skills/knowledge/performance gap as tools, methods emerge, but we don’t have time (or spend the time) to learn how to use them effectively. I actually think this is one of the biggest issues we face in corporate learning and why I started Work Literacy a year ago. Sometimes I feel like I’m shouting in the forest.

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  • http://ideasandthoughts.org Dean Shareski

    Clay Shirky calls this “filter failure”. That’s what we need, better filters. Whether it’s twitter, RSS, networked uses of delicious, there are ways to develop filters. It’s not information overload or TMI, it’s filter failures.

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  • FeliciaKT

    This is very timely. As I was about to give up on locating a blog to join (for class), moreso because of TMI and irrevelant conversations – I located the buried treasure. Very poignant to rely on natural and unforced conversations. As I am very new to the venture of web 2.0 tools and definitely allmyfaves (love the organization); it has been somewhat difficult to stay abreast on what’s current although I am almost a decade too late for even that!

    Personally, I simply treat information as I do when reading an abstract. I scan for relevance, later application, and ease. I dare not begin to offer any tips to teachers at this novice level.

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