Enabling action: Digging deeper into strategies for learning by Thom Haller. (Haller, T. (2013), Enabling action: Digging deeper into strategies for learning. Bul. Am. Soc. Info. Sci. Tech., 39: 42–43. doi: 10.1002/bult.2013.1720390413)
A central goal for information architects is to understand how people use information, make choices as they navigate a website and accomplish their objectives. If the goal is learning, we often assume it relates to an end point, a question to answer, a problem to which one applies new understanding. Benjamin Bloom’s 1956 taxonomy of learning breaks down the cognitive process, starting from understanding needs and progressing to action and final evaluation. Carol Kuhlthau’s 1991 outline of the information search process similarly starts with awareness of a need, progresses through exploring options, refining requirements and collecting solutions, and ends with decision making and action. Recognizing the stages of information browsing, learning and action can help information architects build sites that better meet searchers’ needs.
Thom starts with Bloom, cruises by Kahlthau and ends up with Jared Pomranky restating Kuhlthau in: Seeking Knowledge: Denver, Web Design, And The Stages of Learning:
According to Kuhlthau, the six stages of learning are:
- Initiation — the person becomes aware that they need information. Generally, it’s assumed that visitors to your website have this awareness already, but there are circumstances in which you can generate this kind of awareness as well.
- Exploration — the person sees the options that are available to choose between. Quite often, especially online, ‘analysis paralysis’ can set in and make a learner quit at this stage because they can’t decide which of the options are worth further pursuit.
- Formulation — the person sees that they’re going to have to create further requirements before they’re able to make a final selection, and they make decisions to narrow the field. Confidence returns.
- Collection — the person has clearly articulated their precise needs and is able to evaluate potential solutions. They gather all available solutions and begin to weigh them based on relevant criteria.
- Action — the person makes their final decision and acts on it based on their understanding.
Many web designers assume that their surfers are at the Collection stage, and craft their entire webpage toward moving their reader from Collection to Action — but statistically, most people are going to be at Exploration or Formulation when they arrive at your site.
Does that mean that you should build a website that encourages people to go read other options and learn more, hoping they’ll return to your site for their Action? Not at all — but it does mean that by understanding what people are looking for at each stage of their learning process, we can design websites that guide them through the whole thing. This, by no coincidence whatsoever, also results in websites and web content that is useful, user-friendly, and entirely Google-appropriate.
We all use models of online behavior, learning if you like, but I would caution against using models disconnected from your users.
Particularly models disconnected from your users and re-interpreted by you as reflecting your users.
A better course would be to study the behavior of your users and to model your content on their behavior.
Otherwise you will be the seekers who: “… came looking for [your users], only to find Zarathustra.” Thus Spake Zarathustra