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Outsourcing Our Memory to Google

August 8th, 2009 jonmott Comments

Robert Kelly, author of How to Be a Star at Work, made the following observation about the percentage of knowledge the average employee stores in their own mind, versus the amount they retrieve from external sources as the need arises:

“What percent of the knowledge you need to do your job is stored in your own mind? Or put another way, what percentage of  time do you spend reaching out to someone or something else for knowledge that is essential for you to get your job done?

In 1986, the average answer from responses to surveys or hands in the air at group seminars was that most people had about 75 percent in their heads. In recent years, the percentage has dropped 15 to 20 points, and in the case of one company I worked with recently, fallen as low as 10 percent.”

So how does this relate to our work in higher education? We live in an age in which anyone can access virtually any factoid instantaneously. As I was driving home from work with my 18 year old son the other day, Rush by Big Audio Dynamite was playing on the radio.

I provide it here for your listening pleasure:

Rush – Big Audio Dynamite II

We couldn’t remember who sang for B.A.D. My son grabbed my iPhone, did a quick Wikipedia search and resolved our dilemma in 1o seconds. (In case you’re wondering, the front man for B.A.D. was Mick Jones.)

My colleague David Wiley has been challenging instructors to quit teaching or test factoids that can be found instantaneously on Google. The teacher’s job used to be dispensing information that students could get nowhere else. Now they have ready access to more inforamtion that we dreamed possible when we were in school. Our job now, as Mike Wesch likes to put it, is to make our students “knowledge-able,” not simply knowledgeable. Our job today is to help students find the right information and use it effectively to solve problems.

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