The Information Funnel

Two days later I received a phone call from Victor, he was in Amsterdam for a few days and wanted to meet me, did I have some time the next evening? He wanted to discuss something with me. I had already planned to go to Amsterdam to the University so we made an appointment at 18:00 in the American hotel, my favorite place to meet someone in Amsterdam. When I arrived, Victor was not alone, he was sitting at a table overlooking the Leidseplein and talking to a women of his age with long blond hair. When I approached, Victor introduced me to her as his Sedona friend and introduced her to me as Simone, the translator of his books into Dutch.

He was talking to her about his new book ‘The Communication Paradox’ which he already explained to me while waiting on the airport about impact of the changes in our communication infrastructure which took care we never had so many means of communication as before while at the same time direct one to one communication becomes harder for us, especially for young adults who are not able to communicate easily which causes a lot of stress and psychological problems for them. After this he looked at me and said to me: ‘and that’s why I asked you to join us, maybe you could help solving the problem.’.

I told him I was surprised and Victor smiled and continued ‘Working on my book I realised I was only describing a problem but not working on a solution and last week I remembered our recent conversation and that you told me you were lecturing Information Management to students, the same students who I describe in my book having all these problems. I want to know more about what your lecturing. What is the definition of Information Management according to you?’.

I responded: ‘Key for Information Management is that business nowadays have more and more IT available in which continuously data are stored about their customers, sales, inventory, distribution and financial situation but also data from the outside world available through external sources and the Internet. Information Management is the skill to translate all this data to useful information which makes it possible to manage your business, I call this the Information Funnel. There is so much data available that it’s not easy to do this, you not only need to understand IT but also the business of a company and understand what is going on inside and outside the company’.

‘Why do you call it a skill’, Victor asked. ‘Well’, I told him, ‘Twenty years ago Management Reporting was 90% plus financial and most of the time only available after month ends closing. If something went wrong in an organisation it ws only noticed when a customer had a complaint or your bank did not want to give you credit any more. Today changes go so fast that managers want information as soon as available and if possible direct online, stand and ad hoc. To be able to produce these dashboards and reports you need to know a lot about a company and be experienced’.

‘And what happens when companies not have a good Information Management Function?. Victor asked’. ‘Then you have a problem’, I responded, ‘It’s like a patient being sick and not having the right instruments available to investigate what’s wrong. Management Information gives you the insights on what’s going right and what’s going wrong so you can immediately take action when needed to change things for the better, if possible. In the past this was a role for the CFO but this has changed with the introduction of IT and is now more the domain of the CIO who does not only have to know about IT and needs to have broad business knowledge being able to combine both to usefull Management Information’.

‘Students have the same problem as companies nowadays, how can they structure all the digital data they receive so it becomes useful information for them? Digital overload is a big problem now for students, they are not able to filter the content which comes available all the time on the internet properly which can have big influence on their future performance’, Victor concluded. ‘Within companies the CIO is responsible for managing this information funnel and for students this of course should be the teacher and as you teach Information Management you are sitting on the solution of our problem’.

Since three years I was lecturing students the basics of Information Management on a private University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam mainly from a manual yet like in the old days when only books were available. And during my lessons when all my students were busy with their smartphones and laptops multitasking between me and what was going on online. The manual I used ‘Information Management’ was clearly written by someone who had worked in IT because I recognised a lot described in my book as my own experiences in the past working for IT companies. And my students were not interested in these old stories because they were born in a world with IT all around them while I had slowly grown into this from nothing.

Victor looked at me and said: ‘ And you teachers could be the key for solving this issue, there is a task for schools and universities to prepare students for the information society certainly in a time when politicians talk about ‘alternative’ facts and everybody is creating his own Facebook environment filtering out post they don’t like’.

‘But how do you want to do this’, Simone asked. Victor relied: ‘Maybe a school is not the right solution for this, we need something to replace this which is more modern and fit for our Information Society. The reason why schools were founded in the first place was that families were not able to educate their children themselves and you need teacher to learn them how to read, write and calculate. Children were living in large families and lived in small homes so going to school made sense in these days. Since then a lot have changed, most children now have a room on their own and parents both working and the relationship between parents and children has changed a lot’.

‘My students spend on average 7 hours on school and 4 hours a day online next to the time they spend online at school,’ I responded, ‘and for them these are two differente worlds. If you want to change this you need to change the whole school system and integrate these worlds into one and make more connections with the outside world. Why only go to one school and sit in a room with the other students and always the same teacher and following an education developed for the average student? Why not making this more flexible and use all available capacity with courses for students with different backgrounds and levels?’

‘Research has shown that collaborative learning works better than learning on your own, this has to do with the way your brain works. Another interesting conclusion is that you can better stay up late to finish a deadline than start early in the  morning, the time most schools want you to be the most productive. Also most teachers start with the theoretical concepts and than apply these while it’s better to first do something and than reflect on this form a theoretical background if you want to learn.’

‘Another important issue which influences learning is the changing relationship between students and their parents. It depends of course on the educational background of their parents but a lot is nowadays discussed around the kitchen table. 25 years ago students learned stuff not understood by their parents because the study content was more theoretical. Nowadays the study content is much more up to date and so students can easier discuss the content with their parents which makes it easier for them to learn’.

‘And just like companies need to manage their Information Funnel, students have to learn also how to qualify all the information they receive through their devices whole day and integrate this with what they learn on school or universities, this are not separate worlds but complementary. They have to learn the difference between facts and fake facts, an opinion and something which is scientific proven and how you can filter information which is relevant for you. They need to not only to see their smartphone as a tool to play with when they have noting to do but also as an instrument to become a useful member of society. Most schools see these diverse as a threat while it should be an opportunity.

‘In the Netherlands the school system is not able to educate around 15.000 students because their parents cannot find a proper school for them or schools don’t want them because of a lot of reasons. Around 5.000 of them have permission to get education at home from their parents  or private teachers giving lesson at home. At the same time the number of students who need extra lessons after schooltime from specialized institutes is growing and the same is happening for private schools were parents have to pay a lot of money to give more tailored education fit for the students needs.’

‘That’s why I thing we need to rethink the fundamentals of our school system’, Victor said, ‘We should develop a flexible system for all by which during once lifetime we van learn or teach others the necessary knowledge and skills to become a citizen, employee or owner of a business using all available methods and technology. If you define a school now a student now will say it’s a combination of a building and a set of teachers capable of giving lessons in a certain domain. This should be a student with certain qualifications who has to learn some things otherwise he/she can’t survive in society and invest in other qualifications he enjoys doing and which can potential become his future business. And the tools to do this can be having a course in a class with a teacher a a level and location of choice, following a virtual course, doing a study trip or internship, earning study points with a public service, travel and write an essay on your experiences, participating in an online knowledge community, doing a skills test, talking to a study coach, visiting a museum with their parents or talking to an entrepreneur or even start up your first business’

We talked about this for some time and Victor left around ten, he had to fly back next morning very early, I stayed behind with Simone. He was very glad with our discussion and it was very useful for him.

About Gerard Geerlings

Gerard Geerlings, socioloog en schrijver, schrijft online over wat er zoal aan de hand is op het terrein van de digitale samenleving, de troost van kunst, praktische levenskunst en de actuele politiek.
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