Study: why bother to remember when you can just use Google?

Depending on your point of view, the results of the research reported on here may be a cause for great concern or for celebration. Most notable among the findings is that, in the Internet age, we tend to remember how to find facts that may be useful rather than the facts themselves.  I suspect that some might see this as an issue negatively affecting our intellects, precisely as Socrates bemoaned the effects of writing on our ability to think. They would be right, to a point. Personally, however, I think this is a good thing, because it lets us better concentrate on how to use and link those facts.  It is a continuation of a process that began with the invention of signs, language, painting and (especially) writing, and that has given us the ability to gain a far richer and more useful view of the world, offloading and distributing our cognitive processes to create scaffolding for ever more powerful and complex ways of understanding. This research does not suggest a great difference in kind. However, it does starkly show that we shape our tools and that our tools shape us, deeply and significantly. 

It notably affirms George Siemens’s theory of Connectivism. This is good supporting evidence, if more were needed, that we are offloading our cognition into non-human entities, in a way that is significantly different from simple transactive memory. Whether or not it is a good thing, it suggests that the skills that we are developing relate to our ability to traverse human and non-human networks, so any theory of learning should consider us as being part of a broader web of knowledge.

Address of the bookmark:

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

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