Teens and information

One of the most important skills that everyone should have in the intangible economy is the ability to find information. Those of us who spend our days on the Internet take this skill for granted. We also view young people as the most Web-savvy. But this may not be the case. As a story in today’s Wall Street Journal Teens Don’t Know Everything relates:

According to a recent study by Nielsen Norman Group, a Fremont, Calif., consulting firm, teenagers are able to complete “perfectly feasible” tasks on a Web site only 55% of the time. The rest of the time, teens either give up or incorrectly complete basic tasks, such as locating free copies of documents that a site provides for downloading.

The researchers lay part of the blame on poorly designed website. The story goes on to talk about the do’s and don’t of designing websites for teens. However, bad websites are a fact of life and people need to develop skills find information. Developing such skills has to be a positive activity – simply “playing around” with the Web isn’t enough. Many colleges require mandatory training on Web-based information retrieval – I know the business school at Georgetown University, where I occasionally teach, does.
But by college it might be already too late. This is a skill that needs to be learned early. Otherwise, we run the risk of perpetuating not just a digital-divide but an information-divide.

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