Coping with the information overload

7537238368_27da452a16_oOn Friday I was teaching students about barriers to learning, including over-stimulation and overload of information.

This morning, I turn on my desktop to find a dozen journal updates, another dozen updates from news sites I subscribe to, a pile of interesting/important stuff to read/digest about Thursday’s general election, as well as all the rest of my work. Outlook reminders ping into life even as I type (including the one to write this).

I was on the verge of saying that this is a particularly bad time, between the different things happening around me, but actually it’s fairly typical. and I guess it’s not unfamiliar to most of you.

In short, there’s a hell of a lot of information out there and more and more of it is heading towards you.

I’d love to give you some good advice here. Something about filtering, or prioritising, or deep breathing, or mindfulness, or some such. But I won’t, because I don’t think I do any of these things. Probably the sum-total is to regularly read Oliver Burkeman’s This column will change your life on The Guardian website (and then promptly forget it all).

So why tell you this?

To remind you that you have to handle this and that students probably have to handle it too. Maybe not so much on the academic side, but quite likely more on the social/personal side. If we don’t have an appreciation that their education is only one part of their lives, then we might be better able to design and run learning environments for them that engage and stimulate.

As always, there are different paths open to you (and them). I realise that I rely on a number of different filters to pick up new research (e.g. Google Scholar alerts, Twitter lists, journal update emails) and on routine to produce content (e.g. blogs, academic writing). These work (most of the time) for me, but other things might work for you: I’ve tried having a commonplace book (or Evernote, for a digital equivalent), but never quite clicked with it, for example.

Data management is a key skill for our students, as we can testify, so we should be having those kinds of discussions with students.

But now my colour-flagged email list grows longer. At least, I tell myself, it’ll all be much quieter next week, once this election has passed and everything’s sorted for another five years. Maybe lying to myself is also a part of it.

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