I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of the most important skills I got from my education was the ability to find answers.
I wish education in general was more focused on that skill. Rather than accumulating (and, gak, testing for) knowledge, teach the skill set required to acquire knowledge as needed; a kind of “just in time” skill. When you need to know something, you know how to find it.
“Learning how to learn” is the popular phrase. Some teach it well, some do not. Some acquire the skill, some do not. Most never realize it at the time, being too focused on standardized tests of accumulated knowledge; knowledge then promptly forgotten.
The internet has changed that.
When you need to find an answer you simply Google it. (Or, in fairness, use the search engine of your choice, most commonly Google). It’s just-in-time knowledge. Information at your fingertips, one might even say.
That’s not a bad thing. An amazing amount of information is available to us at a moment’s notice, more than we could ever hope to have access to in previous days. Learning how to learn has been replaced by learning how to Google. Using a search engine effectively has become a critical skill.
But it exposes a need for a new skill. A skill not being taught, explicitly or implicitly, to the degree needed.
That skill? Discernment. Critical thinking. The ability to evaluate the answers found for their accuracy, bias, and agenda.
What good is are instant results from Google if some of them are wrong? Thinking you know the answer without knowing it’s wrong is arguably worse than not knowing the answer at all.
Sure, this is a popular, perhaps even obvious, topic when discussing politics and social media. This is about much more than that. Traditional information management, research, and even casual questions and answers are now all subject to the same risk: how do we know what we find is accurate? Do we even know how to figure it out?
What good is your ability to Google something if you can’t properly evaluate the results?
Evaluating the results has become a cornerstone skill. And it’s not getting the respect it deserves. It’s not getting the respect it requires.
Critical thinking applies to everything. And in a world where Google provides answers — both right and wrong — in the blink of an eye, it’s more important than ever.
That the skill might also apply to our social interactions is just a bonus; a very big bonus.