Instructional Design

You Use Information Skimming to Avoid Drowning in Data

We may be living in the Information Age, but most of us can’t conceive how massively informative it really is. The Internet is growing at a rate of 3.7% per quarter, for a conservative estimate of 330.6M top level domains by Q1 2017. In the past two years alone, humans have produced more data than existed in our entire history. How do we avoid sinking in a vast sea of data? We use information skimming.

Debunking the Attention Span Myth

Researchers once said that humans now have eight-second attention spans—the same as a goldfish—blaming time spent on the internet and social media. The eight-second attention span myth has been since debunked, but what remains is a misunderstanding about how we scrutinize information. Marketers all agree that when someone visits a website, that website only has ten seconds to grab that person’s attention. It’s no coincidence that the time we use to skim a piece of digital content is pretty close to how long researchers think we can concentrate. The Information Age has disrupted the attention economy, rather than destroyed our brains. Why we only allocate eight to ten seconds to a piece of content is about basic economics: Our time is limited and the market is glutted with information. You get eight seconds because we’re stingy, not stupid.

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You Skim, They Skim, We All Skim

Google patents tell an interesting story about how we interact with information. Google attempts, through various secretive algorithms they feed their bots, to personalize our search results as much as possible. That’s how they rank websites in the SERP—by what they “think” we want. These algorithms mimic our information skimming behavior. For example: How far down the page do we skim to find the information? That’s how far the bots skim. How long do we stay on a webpage? The bots measure this. We skim hastily through the first paragraph to see if it’s what we need. Bots do that, too. It makes sense that the bots are programmed to interact with data like us for the express purpose of finding out what we want.

Microlearning: Snippets of Wisdom

While we speedily skim along content of any kind, digital or physical, we might come across snippets of relevant or interesting information. As far as attention span goes, those snippets require more focus, kind of like slowing for a pothole or stop sign when we’re driving. This is the very reason that microlearning is so effective in the Information Age. Microlearning isn’t just a workaround for our pitifully truncated attention spans. Microlearning is effective because, with smaller pieces of navigable information, we can customize our learning experiencethe same way we customize our own learning experience as we skim digital content on a daily basis.

In the Information Age, information skimming is an evolutionary adaptation to content overload. We allocate eight seconds to content in order to find value or relevance in it. We have to–it’s sink or skims. It’s wrong to assume that eight second is all we are capable of, and microlearning proves this. Microlearning acknowledges how modern learners, who’ve been fully indoctrinated into the Information Age, interact with content by offering us a customizable experience. It works, as the worst thing you can do is waste our time when we don’t have enough of it for everything. Hence information skimming.