The New TMI and How It Threatens Learning

TMIBy Bill Henk – Today’s youth might not recognize the “old” TMI or understand the fear it engendered.  But I sure do.

You see,  I worked in Middletown, Pennsylvania, near the infamous site of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident.  Although the unnatural disaster of a nuclear meltdown had ultimately been averted,  the whole nation watched in horror as the story unfolded, not knowing what imminent dangers to expect.  Uncertainty and terror ran rampant.

The unforgettable incident occurred a few years before I moved there, but everyone who lived in the area wondered what the aftermath, dare I say ‘fall-out,’ was going to be.   Let’s just say that being told that you had a ‘glow’ about you on any given day didn’t necessarily qualify as good news.

The New TMI

With this post, I want to alert readers to the dangers of the “new” TMIan insidious force potentially more disruptive to the whole of human welfare than the original.

This time around it’s the younger folks who will know what TMI means — TOO MUCH INFORMATION.  They recognize it as a common abbreviation used in social media, a natural for their respective generations.

As a baby boomer caught in the midst of what feels like a natural disaster of stimulus overload, I’m now coining the abbreviation  WTMI to signify WAY Too Much Information.  Go ahead and pick one — avalanche, blizzard, earthquake, eruption, firestorm, flood,  landslide,  tsunami, tornado.  It doesn’t matter.

Like almost every one nowadays, I am overwhelmed by the amount of information that is foisted upon me.  As I see it,  dealing with seemingly infinite amounts of data represents a profound and quite different challenge for the future of human learning.

Too Much InformationEven putting aside the texts of the 200 to 300 email messages I receive and read almost every day, and my responses to them.  I am literally bombarded with information.   Many of the messages will contain multiple attachments or links to other material that people think I “need to see” or “might be interested in.”

Although I appreciate the concern of these well-intended contributors for my informational awareness, on most days, to be perfectly honest, enough is enough!

Making matters worse, frequently the attachments are documents of dozens and sometimes hundreds of pages (normally single-spaced no less), and the links routinely  take me to websites jam-packed with textual, pictorial, video, and audio information.  Even more daunting, upon opening the attachments or arriving at the sites, I discover more embedded and external links to info I could or should conceivably examine as well.

In short, it feels like informational hemorrhaging.  And as much as I want it to stop, I can’t even slow it down.  The bottom line is that the imbalance between time available and the amount on information to potentially consume is staggering.

What To Do

This ever-expanding world (or universe or galaxy) of information represents opportunities and challenges that everyone from school children through senior citizens will have to embrace or contend with.  It’s fundamentally inescapable.  And educators must  prepare them for the conceptual onslaught.  No small feat.

Ironically, time does not permit me to go into detail on what needs to be done (because I have too much email and other stuff to read).  But let me just share the tip of the ‘information iceberg’ expectations list :

  • basic reading skills will be more important than ever
  • the ability to search for information will be critical
  • skimming and scanning will need to occur more often to determine whether information generally matches one’s learning needs
  • Sorting through content to determine its specific relevance will require skill in prioritizing
  • Excerpting, categorizing, and storing information for future use will demand technical, organizational, and navigational facilities
  • Time management for learning will demand more intentional effort and discipline

iPhone WTMINo doubt there much more remains for educators to ponder in actively confronting WTMI.  It’s going to be a major undertaking for sure.

All I can say is that, “OMG, we’re going to need LOL. “

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