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Learning Curve: How College Graduates Solve Information Problems Once They Join the Workplace (237191027)

Learning Curve: How College Graduates Solve Information Problems Once They Join the Workplace (237191027)

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Published by EDUCAUSE
Qualitative findings about the information-seeking behavior of today’s college graduates as they transition from the campus to the workplace. Included are findings from interviews with 23 US employers and focus groups with 33 recent graduates from four US colleges and universities, conducted as an exploratory study for Project Information Literacy’s (PIL’s) Passage Studies. Most graduates in our focus groups said they found it difficult to solve information problems in the workplace, where unlike college, a sense of urgency pervaded and where personal contacts often reaped more useful results than online searches. Graduates said they leveraged essential information competencies from college for extracting content and also developed adaptive information-seeking strategies for reaching out to trusted colleagues in order to compensate for what they lacked. At the same time, employers said they recruited graduates, in part, for their online searching skills but still expected and needed more traditional research competencies, such as thumbing through bound reports, picking up the telephone, and interpreting research results with team members. They found that their college hires rarely demonstrated these competencies. Overall, our findings suggest there is a distinct difference between today’s graduates who demonstrated how quickly they found answers online and seasoned employers who needed college hires to use a combination of online and traditional methods to conduct comprehensive research.
http://new.educause.edu/library/resources/project-information-literacy-research-report-%22learning-curve%22
Qualitative findings about the information-seeking behavior of today’s college graduates as they transition from the campus to the workplace. Included are findings from interviews with 23 US employers and focus groups with 33 recent graduates from four US colleges and universities, conducted as an exploratory study for Project Information Literacy’s (PIL’s) Passage Studies. Most graduates in our focus groups said they found it difficult to solve information problems in the workplace, where unlike college, a sense of urgency pervaded and where personal contacts often reaped more useful results than online searches. Graduates said they leveraged essential information competencies from college for extracting content and also developed adaptive information-seeking strategies for reaching out to trusted colleagues in order to compensate for what they lacked. At the same time, employers said they recruited graduates, in part, for their online searching skills but still expected and needed more traditional research competencies, such as thumbing through bound reports, picking up the telephone, and interpreting research results with team members. They found that their college hires rarely demonstrated these competencies. Overall, our findings suggest there is a distinct difference between today’s graduates who demonstrated how quickly they found answers online and seasoned employers who needed college hires to use a combination of online and traditional methods to conduct comprehensive research.
http://new.educause.edu/library/resources/project-information-literacy-research-report-%22learning-curve%22

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Project Information Literacy Research Report: “Learning Curve” | October 16, 2012 | Alison J. Head
1
L E A R N I N G C U R V E:
 
How College Graduates Solve Information Problems Once They  Join the Workplace
B
Y
 A 
LISON
J. H
EAD,
P
H.
D.
 P
ROJECT
I
NFORMATION
L
ITERACY
R
ESEARCH
R
EPORT
T
HE
P
 ASSAGE
S
TUDIES October 16, 2012 R
ESEARCH
 
S
PONSORED BY THE
I
NSTITUTE OF
M
USEUM AND
L
IBRARY
S
ERVICES (IMLS) AND
C
ONDUCTED IN
 
C
OLLABORATION WITH
T
HE
B
ERKMAN
C
ENTER
 
FOR
I
NTERNET
 
 AND SOCIETY AT
H
 ARVARD
 
Abstract:
 Qualitative findings about the information-seeking behavior of today’s college graduates as they transition from the campus to the workplace. Included are findings from interviews with 23 US employers and focus groups with 33 recent graduates from four US colleges and universities, conducted as an exploratory study for Project Information Literacy’s (PIL’s) Passage Studies. Most graduates in our focus groups said they found it difficult to solve information problems in the workplace, where unlike college, a sense of urgency pervaded and where personal contacts often reaped more useful results than online searches. Graduates said they leveraged essential information competencies from college for extracting content and also developed adaptive information-seeking strategies for reaching out to trusted colleagues in order to compensate for what they lacked. At the same time, employers said they recruited graduates, in part, for their online searching skills but still expected and needed more traditional research competencies, such as thumbing through bound reports, picking up the telephone, and interpreting research results with team members. They found that their college hires rarely demonstrated these competencies. Overall, our findings suggest there is a distinct difference between today’s graduates who demonstrated how quickly they found answers online and seasoned employers who needed college hires to use a combination of online and traditional methods to conduct comprehensive research.
 
Project Information Literacy Research Report: “Learning Curve” | October 16, 2012 | Alison J. Head
2
Introduction I
t is the day after graduation and even though most former college students have turned in their last assignment, packed up their possessions, and are leaving the academy behind, their research days are far from over. Only the subject matter has changed. Many graduates will quickly find themselves avid information seekers as they look for work, learn the ropes of a career, build new communities, tend to personal and professional business, and continue the journey of their lives. In a world where technology abounds, social networks buzz, and connectivity is as commonplace as electricity, graduates may post their resume on Monster, apply for a few coveted internships they have found on Vault, and hook up with some new housemates on Craigslist. As dating options diminish after college, they may find themselves browsing profiles on Okcupid.com. But once they settle into a new job, many of today's graduates soon discover that the techniques that may have worked so well for finding information when they were in college are no longer enough. Other factors also figure into the equation for job success, such as teamwork and the ability to ferret out information beyond what they find on their computer screens. This transition is one of the greatest challenges new graduates face in the digital age. Project Information Literacy (PIL) is a national research study.
1
 This report is the first in a new research initiative at PIL called the “The Passage Studies.”
 2
 The purpose of this unique body of ongoing research is to investigate the information transitions young adults go through at critical junctures in their lives. We seek to understand the challenges today’s college students face and the information competencies and strategies they adopt and develop as they move from one complex information landscape to another. At the same time, we ask what insights can be gleaned from studying these young adults, in the hope that it will lead to improvements in teaching, training, and preparing them for life in the digital age. In this study, we ask what happens to the information-seeking behavior of today's college students once they graduate and enter the workplace. We explored this question from two perspectives: from that of the employers who hire graduates, and from the experiences of graduates themselves who join the workplace. During the winter and spring of 2012, we conducted 23 in-depth interviews with employers about their expectations and evaluations of newly graduated hires and their ability to solve information problems in the workplace. We also moderated five focus group sessions with 33 recent graduates about the challenges they encounter and the information-seeking practices they use as they make the transition from college to the workplace.
3
 
1
 Project Information Literacy (PIL) is a public benefit nonprofit dedicated to conducting ongoing research about young adults and their research habits in the digital age. Alison J. Head, Ph.D. directs PIL. She is also a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society <http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/ > and the Harvard Library Innovation Lab <http://librarylab.law.harvard.edu/>. Communication about this research report should be sent to Dr. Alison J. Head at alison@projectinfolit.org.
2
 This PIL study was conducted in collaboration with the Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and was generously supported with a federal planning grant (LG-52-11-0269-11) from the Institute of Museum of Library Services (IMLS), creating strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.
3
 We are grateful for support from the PIL Research Team who conducted interviews for this study: Elizabeth L. Black (Ohio State University), Jordan Eschler (University of Washington), Sean Fullerton (University of Washington), Sue Gilroy (Harvard University), and Michele Van Hoeck (California Maritime Academy).
 
Project Information Literacy Research Report: “Learning Curve” | October 16, 2012 | Alison J. Head
3
Major Findings
The information transition from college to the workplace is daunting, according to the graduates we interviewed. Many said they felt as if they had been dropped into an unfamiliar setting that radiated urgency and pulsed with unrelenting deadlines. They were challenged by vaguely defined workplace research tasks and little feedback. As they settled into their 40-plus hour-a-week jobs, graduates said they relied on their computer expertise and leveraged information competencies from their college days for solving information problems. Unfortunately, these competencies only went so far. Employers needed them to use a more comprehensive and varied research approach. All in all, our findings reveal two sides of the same coin. The basic online search skills new college graduates bring with them are attractive enough to help them get hired. Yet, employers found that once on the job, these educated young workers seemed tethered to their computers. They failed to incorporate more fundamental, low-tech research methods that are as essential as ever in the contemporary workplace. The major findings from our interviews and focus groups are as follows: 1.
 
When it was hiring time, the employers in our sample said they sought similar information proficiencies from the college graduates they recruited. They placed a high premium on graduates’ abilities for searching online, finding information with tools other than search engines, and identifying the best solution from all the information they had gathered. 2.
 
Once they joined the workplace, many college hires demonstrated computer know-how that exceeded both the expectations and abilities of many of their employers. Yet we found these proficiencies also obscured the research techniques needed for solving information problems, according to our employer interviews. 3.
 
Most college hires were prone to deliver the quickest answer they could find using a search engine, entering a few keywords, and scanning the first couple of pages of results, employers said, even though they needed newcomers to apply patience and persistence when solving information problems in the workplace. 4.
 
A majority of employers said they were surprised that new hires rarely used any of the more traditional forms of research, such as picking up the phone or thumbing through an annual report for informational nuggets. Instead, they found many college hires—though not all—relied heavily on what they found online and many rarely looked beyond their screens. 5.
 
At the same time, graduates in our focus groups said they leveraged essential information competencies from college to help them gain an edge and save time at work when solving workplace information problems. Many of them applied techniques for evaluating the quality of content, close reading of texts, and synthesizing large quantities of content, usually found online. 6.
 
To compensate for the gaps in their skills sets, graduates said they developed adaptive strategies for solving information problems in the workplace, often on a trial-and-error basis. Most of these strategies involved cultivating relationships with a trusted co-worker who could help them find quick answers, save time, and learn work processes
Most college hires were prone to deliver the quickest answer they could find using a search engine…

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