Avoiding Information Overload
November 8th, 2011 by Dr. Bruce Johnson
Online students have a lot of information to process. When a class begins, there are assigned course materials and resources, along with additional information provided by the instructor. Discussion boards are another source of information, often with a high volume of postings. Information overload can occur as you attempt to process this information, review the course materials, and read the messages posted by other students during class discussions. It can simply become too much.
What happens when you begin to feel overwhelmed? Information overload can cause you to lose focus, experience frustration and stress, and have a negative effect on your ability to communicate. Over time, your performance and class participation may decline if you do not know how to process information received in an effective manner. Also, because your instructor cannot see you, they may not fully understand your situation or the reason why you are not doing well. Your instructor may also think that you do not care or that you have lost interest, and if you don’t ask for assistance, you can quickly get behind in your work.
Because your ability to perform well depends upon how effectively you can process information received, the following technique can be implemented to help prevent information overload:
REACT (Receive, Engage, Act, Critical Analysis, Terminate)
Receive: As you receive information, quickly skim through it to determine if it will require additional time to process. Also, review the list of required readings, assignments, and activities to establish priorities each week. Prioritize the information and assignments according to due dates and order of importance, and include the high priority items in your weekly time management plan.
Engage: Before you begin to read and work on your assignments or discussion board responses, it is important to establish effective working conditions. Melissa Venable, an online education expert writing for OnlineCollege.org, has noted the importance of establishing ground rules, which means that you should determine how much time will be spent on each task. This will maximize your study time.
Here are questions you can ask as you prepare to engage with the materials:
• What is the purpose of this reading?
• What are the assignment requirements?
• What is the discussion question topic?
• What resources do I need?
• When should I contact my instructor for help?
Act: Now it is time to read. But don’t just read passively; use an active reading strategy such as SQ3R because it will help you process the information so that you’ll understand its meaning. Put your study plan to good use by making the most of your time.
Critical Analysis: A reading strategy like SQ3R will help you develop a plan for working with complex ideas and information. You can take this process one step further through critical analysis or the use of critical thinking skills. Critical thinking is a different way of looking at information because you are considering what it means, how it may apply to your life or the real world, and why it is important to understand it. You’re not just reading information; you are analyzing it in way that helps you learn.
Terminate: Finally, the very last step in the process I’ve developed is to reach a conclusion. You have received information, worked with it, processed it, and analyzed it. Now is the time to decide if you need to use it further or file it away. When you decide upon an outcome, it will keep you moving forward and onto the next materials that need to be processed.
Don’t let the amount of information you receive in your class overwhelm you. Use the REACT method described above to increase your effectiveness as a student by staying focused and actively engaged.
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