Learning Through Search

Search has many forms

informational searches

for specific facts

and non-directed search

for discovery.


Nicholas Carr in writing “Is Google making us stupid?” takes the search engine to task for its goal of providing “the most relevant information in the shortest time possible.” His concern is that we have left the filtering to Google’s statistical definition of relevance and forsaken the effort needed to filter for ourselves for the curated ‘delight’ filtered by others. “The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words, but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our minds. … we make our own associations, draw our own inference and analogies, foster our own ideas.”

Last week as Brownian motion moved me about the Internet I came across a new term, learning by searching. That direct search, rather than Carr’s flaneuring could meaningfully promote learning was an intriguing thought. Here are the fruits of my directed search. 

Malcolm Knowles identified five characteristics of the adult learner

1.     Adults are autonomous and self-directed

2.     Adults are goal directed

3.     Adults are relevancy oriented-why do I want to learn this

4.     Adults are practical and focus on aspects of knowledge most useful to them

5.     Adults have accumulated a foundation of knowledge and need to connect the new knowledge to foundation

 Given these characteristics, it is easy to see why search is an ideal learning methodology for those of us in healthcare.

But why bother?

What motivates us?

We are motivated to learn by a continuum ranging from external expectations, a desire to advance, or increasing mastery. Alternatively, our motivation can be social, expanding our network of friends and colleagues, or breaking our daily routine. Lastly, we may be simply have an inquiring mind.

Having spent the last two years on a CME committee (affectionately known to me as the library committee), I find CME driven predominantly by the external motivation of regulatory requirements (diversity training, opioid management, identification of child abuse, maintenance of certification) and to a lesser degree by a need for mastery. What I wonder is whether we might get a better response utilizing our social motivators. Maybe the ‘best’ CME is searching for a solution to a problem as a work team. “It is reflective of practice, it allows identification of gaps between current desired levels of competence, it identifies solutions that are practically testable and it allows a re-examination with the opportunity for further reflection and a continuum of learning.” It has search, a social component and all the characteristics of adult learning.

As I reflect on Carr’s thesis I realize that there are two forms of learning that serve two separate although not exclusive purposes. Goal directed, ‘adult’ learning heightens mastery of our field making us better at what we are; the random walk that Carr champions serves the needs of curiosity for individuals who act to bridge between teams (or work groups?) with the deep expertise of their area.

I have included copies of Nicholas Carr's article and an additional piece on serendipity in the white paper section of the website. I encourage you to download both.

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