Why am I learning this? That’s a question that pops into students’ heads like a refrain throughout their education, something I’m sure we all asked ourselves, our teachers, or our parents at some point. Sometimes we were given a good answer that helped engage us in the lesson that day; sometimes (and I’m looking at you, quadratic equation) we’re still not sure.
Information skills are something we haven’t done a good job of teaching students, and they continue to be undervalued because we don’t adequately explain how critical they are. It’s tricky, because whenever I mention information skills I can see people's’ eyes glaze over with thoughts of proper citations, or search techniques for specialized databases, but what I’m talking about isn’t the skillset you need to research or write a term paper. Or rather, that’s only a very small part of it. What I’m talking about affects everything from your career to your quality of life.
What I’m talking about are the skills needed to succeed in today’s Knowledge Economy.
The days of going to school and learning a skill that will set the trajectory of your career are over. In order to succeed today a person has to be able to learn continuously throughout their life, be able to recognize when they need new information, and know where to find it. Employers today value problem solving more than any one industry-specific skill. Just look over the findings of this very readable report from Northeastern University, where they asked business leaders what they were looking for in employable candidates.
The importance here really can’t be overstated. Here’s a short video we made that delves deeper into how failures in information skills have had terrible effects on a global level. We have to be able to understand information, and use it responsibly.
There are numerous studies (including our own survey) showing that college and university faculty members are disappointed with the lack of information skills of students coming out of high school. And sometimes when I talk to high school teachers, they seem to think these are skills that should have been learned in junior high. And so on, until you find an age low enough for people to say, it’s too early to worry about that stuff! My take is that we’re all responsible. Research skills need to be given a place in the educational pantheon that is Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. But even more than that, we must recognize information skills, not as something learned only in school, but as part of a learning continuum that spans our entire lives.
What I think makes this such an exciting time is the sense of possibility. But with that sense of possibility comes the need for us to be able to adapt quickly, and that’s where information skills are essential.