The Google Factor has changed the way we learn

There is a disruptive learning revolution happening all around us, one which we may not have noticed. It’s pervasive, with billions of people already on board. It is progressing with an unstoppable momentum, yet its impact appears not to have been fully appreciated. This change is directly related to the global adoption of Google, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and will continue to grow at an ever increasing pace.

Over the past five years the Digital Age has significantly transformed the way we learn, with the impacts already being felt in schools, universities and workplaces around the world as they attempt to capture and retain the interests of new age learners. Today, we find ourselves in a renaissance age of learning where we are able to learn on demand and access information in milliseconds (just as Google informs us every time we do a search). One of the biggest challenges for those who develop and deliver training or learning content is to not only acknowledge this evolutionary change, but also adapt their training experiences to meet this evolution in human behaviour.

As a teacher and lecturer I had been taught that successful training involved developing a learning plan with all of the things that needed to be taught and then figuring out the best way to deliver them. As a teacher I was in control of what was taught and the pace at which it was delivered, and it usually was measured in hours and days rather than minutes.

Admittedly, this traditional learning model continues to exist in formal learning courses however, the biggest revolution has happened in our informal learning behaviours. As with many trends, it is only a matter of time before our informal preferences completely change the way our formal learning activities are delivered. Not so long ago if you wanted to know how to do something, or answer one of life’s big questions you would have to set aside sufficient time to research the topic through various books until you found the answer to satisfy your curiosity – some of us may recall the many volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica that sat proudly on our book shelves.

Not in today’s digital world!

These days we want answers to our questions almost as soon as they have popped into our heads. Today, we are able to find answers to those big questions such as: How much does a live chicken weigh? How do I fix a leaking tap? How do I create a macro in Microsoft Excel? In the digital world we can find the answers without having to search through a table of contents or instruction manual and without having to find a local expert to ask.

Now some purists would claim we are losing the art of learning and researching? But are we really? Or are we actually learning more as a result of the efficiency of getting answers to our questions at the point in time when we are most interested? Our questions are rewarded with answers almost immediately, leaving us free to move on to the next question. Debates and uncertainty are resolved instantly and with certainly through a quick search. Regardless of which generation you belong to there is no denying that learning has evolved as a result of what we can refer to as the Google Factor, and in fact so has human behaviour.

Not only are we complaining about being time poor more frequently, but our attention spans have been significantly reduced as a result of the Google Factor. For many of us we prefer to limit our reading to search headlines to find our answers, and then if we want to delve deeper into the topic we look for the most concise and relevant answers to our questions. If the content hasn’t grabbed our attention straight away, we quickly move straight on to the next answer. It’s so ruthlessly efficient. Online newspapers recognise this and market predominantly through their headlines and the most popular YouTube clips are those short ones that deliver their message before our interest wanes.

The message from the world of online learners is loud and clear: let us choose what we want to learn, when we want to learn it and package it up in the most succinct way possible otherwise we will find someone who will.

This change in behaviour is further evidenced by the popularity of Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. These micro messaging communication platforms are training our brains to communicate more succinctly and learn from smaller and smaller packages. These channels only provide a small number of characters, or upload capacity, for the user to get their message across. And given that many of the under 30s, the early adopters who passionately support these channels, it is safe to say that short and succinct messages are going to become more and more ingrained as the preferred method of communication.

So rather than fight a losing battle against the revolution, we need to adapt and develop learning materials for today’s online learner that meets their expectations and needs. Here are some rules you can keep in mind next time you are designing online learning materials:

  1. Keep to the headlines, grab people’s attention by telling people exactly what they will get from you
  2. Keep it short and succinct, don’t try to teach too much at once. Create a series rather than pack everything into one lesson
  3. Break the skill up to allow the learner to do a refresher on any key points they might have missed
  4. Learn from others, research which online content is being read and followed by users and then experiment with your lessons.
  5. Use feedback to improve your lessons. The online community of learners are great at letting you know when something works for them.
  6. Be proactive in thinking ahead about what the next learning experience is about to be – don’t wait for your audience to ask you!
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The Google Factor has changed the way we learn

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