Daily life can feel like information overload these days. A study in the US by the University of California San Diego estimated that in 2015, Americans would consume approximately 74 gigabytes of data on average every single day! That figure is still growing, as technology becomes more and more present in our lives, delivering increasing amounts of news, opinions, research, gossip, and other information. It is no understatement to say that it can be hard to keep up, and a challenge to filter out the right information from the wrong.
For all of us, but especially students, searching for information online is a key part of everyday life, and one that requires the ability to reliably source information and critically evaluate it. While this might have meant a familiarity with the Dewey Decimal System, and knowing the difference between primary and secondary sources in the past, the sheer volume of information and ease of accessing it today has transformed the skills needed to successfully search for information.
If you were researching a topic to write an essay just twenty or thirty years ago, you could go to your library, review all the available literature on the topic in a day or two, then work out what was most relevant for further study. You could be confident that, while this process might not reveal everything on a particular topic, you’d have at least a good overview. Today, when much research begins with an internet search, on the open web, or through a library or academic catalogue, you can be more sure that you can access everything on a topic, but you probably wouldn’t have enough time in a whole term to review the materials thoroughly. Throw in information from non-academic sources like news publications or social media, and the process of researching that essay quickly becomes overwhelming. People aren’t born with the skills to use a search engine effectively, or the innate ability to judge the accuracy or reliability of information. The rise of fake news is testament to that!
Young people need the opportunity to build information literacy skills, just as they are taught about how to find information in a library or judge between different sources of printed information. Information literacy is about making sure that everyone has the ability to find, critically evaluate, and use information online. In an age of misleading news headlines, extremist material, and bad academic studies online, information literacy is more important than ever before.
As we get the benefit of unprecedented access to information, it’s important that people have the right skills and competences to process that information. Avoiding being misled by fake news or a website set-up by someone with ulterior motives is an essential part of using the internet for research and daily life.
ECDL Foundation’s new Information Literacy module certifies the skills and competences to work with online information. Find out more at ecdl.org/informationliteracy.