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How Americans Learn

2009 December 9

A recent study coming out of UC-San Diego reveals that Americans consume on average 34 gigabytes (GB) of information per day.  That’s the same type of GB that your hard drive’s size is measured in, but that 34 GB comes from a variety of sources, and doesn’t necessarily mean the raw amount of data streaming over your Internet connection.

You see, on average, Americans are exposed to 34 GB of information per day.  The biggest chunk of that comes from TV, and assuming 4.5 hours per day, that accounts for roughly 45%, (~15 GB) of our daily consumption.  Computers (excluding games) account for about 9 GB.

Why is this related to training?  Well, let me redefine “consumption of information” for you: learning!  Whenever a person reads a news article online, watches a TV show, even plays a video game, they are learning something.  We usually call this “informal learning,” which captures the idea that no one specifically set out to teach using most of these modes of information transfer – instead, the learners themselves sought out this information on purpose and decided it was important enough to pay attention.

That’s important.  Public opinion on training is that employees are unmotivated to learn just about anything, and forcing them into dull training seminars where they have no choice but to pay attention is often the only way to get our messages across – just watch a few episodes of The Office, and you’ll see what I mean.  But this study reveals that Americans (at least) actively seek information in their environment, which stands opposite of public opinion.

So then the big question: how can we take advantage of all of this self-directed learning to improve work and training?  Imagine a workplace where online news feeds, videos, and training materials were easily accessible to employees on topics that would improve their job performance, and where they would be motivated to seek out that information and learn it because they wanted to.  And why don’t we have this now?  What are the barriers to making this reality?  And do you think it would really work?

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