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Learning a Little at a Time February 28, 2010

Posted by cjescribano in information management, Learning.


This month’s Learning Circuits Big Question asks us to consider how to design instruction in an “information snacking” culture.

A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing
The sheer volume of information available to us has changed the way we consume and digest information. In the past, people had only a few books and newspapers to attend to, so they read them cover to cover—several times even. But today, we are bombarded with information from the mail, books, magazines, the Internet, our mobile phones, the TV…. We know that we can’t possibly consume all that information, so we snack, dipping into a little information here and there. This snacking can be dangerous because it makes us think we know something when we know just a piece of it. 

Snacking with a Purpose
But, if we set up our information snacking to lead us to a specific goal, to deepen our knowledge in a certain area, it might actually be more instructionally effective than a single intensive learning event. In Quiet Leadership, David Rock explains that the brain creates new pathways with repeated stimulation of those paths. Think about the language you learned in high school. If you never practiced it again, you probably can’t speak it any longer. But what if you had spent a half hour every day practicing it. Even though it wouldn’t seem like you were really studying in earnest, you would probably retain more of your ability to speak the language than you did from all that time you spent cramming for tests in high school.

Daily Progress toward a Learning Goal
Daily devotionals have the right idea. Daily reminders can help keep us on the right path toward our goals. Some things just can’t be learned in a single class or even a degree. Skills like leadership need daily reinforcement. Using technologies like blogs, Twitter, wikis, and social networks, it’s possible to set up a course of daily information snacking that can guide us to achieving goals.

For Example: My Twitter Experiment
Last summer, I conducted a Twitter experiment to apply this approach. Here’s what I did:

1. Set a goal. In my case, I wanted to communicate more effectively. I thought that if I focused on that everyday and used Twitter to record and share what I was learning and even get feedback and ideas from others, I could achieve that goal.

2. Set up a daily plan. I had planned to read a chapter of a book on communication skills everyday and then tweet about what I learned or how I was applying those skills.

3. Set milestones to assess progress and determine next steps.

I have to confess that my Twitter experiment was a failure because I didn’t have the discipline to stick with it. When work got busy or my personal life interfered, I got swept away, and I still haven’t returned to pursuing that goal. But I still think the idea and the approach have merit for learning new skills, especially skills that require a long-term change in the way I think and the way I am in the world.

By applying this type of approach, perhaps we can harness our information snacking habits to build a pathway to better performance.



1. Moira - March 2, 2010

I always look forward to your posts, and this one in particular is very inspiring to me. In regards to daily devotionals – my practice is to read at least a few posts every few days from bloggers who write about e-learning. I don’t take notes or make it into something formal, but just a small effort every day over time has really expanded my understanding of the field and has led to some big improvements in my work – much more than one course could have done. I’d recommend a book call Kaizen about how small efforts can lead to big changes over time.

cjescribano - March 8, 2010

Hi Moira,
Thanks so much for your comment and for the book recommendation. I’ve heard of Kaizen, but this is a good reminder to pursue it further. I really like your approach to learning a little every day. I also try to read a few blogs every day or so, but sometimes I get busy and neglect that practice, which is a real loss.

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