I watch my 14yo son with some bemusement when he expertly uses Google to search for information for school projects or simply to find out about something that intrigues him. He is reluctant to use my favourite source of information – books. There is a massive paradigm shift that is occurring at present where people are using search engines from Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to secure the knowledge, information and data they require by simply typing a request into a search engine. Know-how all available at your fingertips – or fingertip knowledge.
Elliot Masie, a learning futurist, indicated his astonishment after presenting to a group of 200 learning professionals. He asked them a simple question: ‘If tomorrow you needed to learn something new, what would be your first step?’ He expected a range of typical responses including books, e-learning, classroom-based learning and asking a colleague. But more than 90% of those present indicated that they would simply do a Google search. This is a profound change from consulting your peers or locating the information in a book – either online or in a library.
Engineering professionals want information immediately – available at their fingertips. Most organizations do have information available, but most storage systems are hierarchical menu-based systems that require one to memorise key navigational paths or key steps. What makes search engines such as Google so incredibly powerful is their simplicity and ease of access. Whether at home, in an office or travelling through an airport, access to Google is easy. Furthermore, when searching, the engine facilitates even fairly loosely defined strings and some misspellings – there is a lot of ‘forgiveness, including typo’s and formats’ (Masie 2006).
Fingertip knowledge is also now diversifying. Knowledge is being secured using devices such as iPhones, iPads or smart phones.
However – with this deluge of information it is vital to use the information wisely.
So how can we improve our searching for know-how on the web?
In conclusion, Elliot Masie (2006) makes the point that ‘…we need to start to develop the ability to be very good at Fingertip Knowledge: both very good at finding resources and also very good at the critical thinking that goes to figure out: are they true, are they relevant, are they biased or unbiased?’
And remember when looking for that very hard-to-find item of information, Abraham Lincoln’s comment: ‘Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing’.
Yours in engineering learning