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Many people think that eLearning and eReference are the same – and this misunderstanding can lead to whole projects failing and budget wasted on the wrong system. Paul Matthews reveals in an e-newsletter:

There is a fundamental difference between knowledge acquisition for later use, and referencing information for immediate use. The motivations are different, the time context is different, the learner state is different, the end goal is different and the general context is different.

This means that that the way the enquirer interacts with the information needs to be different, and thus the interface between the enquirer and the information needs to be different.

If the information is presented in a way that does not suit the enquirer, this presents a barrier to the information, and the desired outcome is less likely to be met. In some cases, the enquirer will simply give up because the barriers are too high for the level of motivation they have.

Notice that I have used the term enquirer rather than learner. If someone simply wants some information right now to solve an immediate issue, they are not setting out to learn the information, although this may be a side effect. Their goal is to solve the issue they have.

Of course, anyone who gets some new information, and then immediately uses it to solve a problem will probably remember it… and this is informal learning at its best. It is learning that is tightly focused and highly contextual to the learner’s real life situation.

The KiFi model

I have developed a model around this simple concept that I have called the KiFi model. That is, some enquirers want ‘Know It’ information, and some want ‘Find It’ information.

If you look at this within the context of online information systems, it has a profound impact on how the user interface should be designed. An interface that will work well when the goal is ‘Know It’ information, will usually be very poor when the goal is ‘Find It’ information, and vice versa. This means that eLearning and eReference should be thought of as collaborative methods to provide information to learners. Sometimes both are needed so that the same information is presented to users in two different styles of user interface to accommodate their immediate goal of ‘Know It’ or ‘Find It’.

A contributing factor to this of course is the Internet and how it has changed the way we regard information. Those of us with some grey hair like me grew up with information coming in bursts. These days, people are growing up with 24/7 access to a vast repository of information. It is like a permanent smorgåsbord where you can take what you want, when you want it. In fact, Google is used most of the time as a ‘Find It’ information tool. It facilitates eReference. When the Internet is available, there is less motivation to learn information if we know we can always find it on the internet. The younger generations, the digital natives, are far more in tune with the philosophy of eReference and all it represents.

To find out lots more about this critical distinction, and a simple methodology to apply it, click here

First published in the June Learning Magazine e-newsletter www.learningmagazine.co.uk