Monday, January 14, 2013

New Trends in Information Search Portend Changes in Education

The latest stats from comScore show that mobile search continues to grow rapidly and is eroding the traditional desktop search business. Mobile and vertical search — retail, travel, social — are killing the traditional desktop search business. According to Ben Schachter, of Macquaire:
"We estimate that as much as 25-30% of all Internet search traffic could be coming from mobile devices as of year-end. Moreover, in certain categories, such as restaurants, we believe that well more than 30% of queries are already coming from mobile devices (other key categories such as Consumer Electronics, Beauty & Personal, Finance/Insurance, and Autos also have a meaningful share of mobile queries)."
This latest data reflects the continuing evolution of consumer information habits, which are mutating rapidly as our lifestyles and professions become increasingly integrated with mobile devices. In terms of the broader implications of this change, here are a number of trends to watch.
  1.  Desktop-->mobile -- Mobile is just getting started. Smartphones already outsell PCs and tablets will likely follow suit this year. With desktop search our pursuit and discovery of information is limited to specific locations and specific temporal boundaries. For mobile users information research is ubiquitous.
  2. Linear-->organic -- In the desktop era information searches have been associated with a specific project or personal need and have been mostly unidirectional. We search for one thing at a time, review the results, filter those results, and search again if necessary. It's focused and linear, and we stay with the process until we manage to find what we're looking for. In the new information era, our queries are like our real life -- they are messy and organic. We look for multiple, often disparate, pieces of information at the same time and follow a crooked, serendipitous path to discovery.
  3. Discovery-->connected -- When I first began working with information in a formal manner, I used analog methods like browsing through a card catalog or printed periodical index, or simply wandering through the stacks in a library. As search technology was introduced into the process, I became focused on information discovery. In both of these phases I navigated to specific locations and and executed targeted and linear investigations. When I found what I was looking for I was left to figure out how the information was related to my overall research goals and how it might be connected to other information or areas of interest. In the new information era, however, we have come to expect consumer services that deliver increasingly connected results -- a piece of information is connected to other personal activity or research interests, or it is connected to communities of interest or related topics that lie beyond my initial inquiry.
  4. Type-->touch/voice -- Over the next five years we will witness a majority of children in elementary and middle school for whom the primary method of information research is entirely through touch or voice. Within ten years, this same phenomenon will rule information interactions of university students and the general adult population. This radical change in modalities means big changes in the way information itself is designed and distributed.
  5. Text-->graphic visualization -- Most people think of information in terms of text. That's because, historically, we have retrieved and processed information in amounts that can be rendered  feasibly as text. Moving forward, however, the amounts of information/data are becoming so large that text cannot always communicate information results adequately. This means a greater occurrence of data visualization and other new forms of presorting information.
Few would likely deny that this shift in information technologies and user behaviors portends big changes in education and learning. At the very least, I believe it means that:
  • We will need to help students develop new information literacy skills, curricular strategies for new modalities such as touch. This may well be one of the biggest challenges we face as educators since we have only known a world in which information has always been accessed indirectly through the use of intermediary devices such as keyboards.
  • We will need to adopt new methodologies for course/learning delivery. The current pedagogical model based on the linear presentation and evaluation of information will necessarily expand to embrace new information types and skills.
  • We will need to create and adopt new information/library technologies to take advantage of the incredible evolutions of information and, just as importantly, to meet the expectations of students and faculty who are also technology consumers and accustomed to the information services offered by innovative technology giants.

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