A new report from Project Information Literacy

From the Spring 2015 Newsletter

Initiated in 2008, the large-scale national study Project Information Literacy (PIL) has been looking at the research practices of “early adults,” or college students and recent graduates. PIL is affiliated with the University of Washington’s iSchool, and in an attempt to cast light on how early adults search and use information in their daily lives, including coursework, PIL researchers have surveyed over 13,000 students and graduates from more than 60 American public, private, and community colleges.

In February, PIL released yet another of its many reports (as all previous summaries, it is available through their portal at projectinfolit.org/publications). Lifelong Learning Study, phase two, offers a glimpse into recent graduates’ lifelong learning habits and strategies. Surveying 2007–2012 graduates from 10 colleges and universities, PIL researchers looked to find out which information use habits and critical thinking skills acquired in college continue to play a crucial role in graduates’ private, civic, and professional lives. Other questions encouraged survey respondents to reflect on their best practices for finding information and meeting the needs for lifelong learning.

Recent graduates do rely on the critical skills learned in college. Almost half of the respondents trusted their ability to find and extract the information they needed. Similarly, evaluating information and presenting it effectively did not present a challenge for 49% of recent graduates. They were also confident in their ability to learn, their understanding deepened by the questions they knew to ask about newly encountered information.

As for best practices, PIL researchers confirmed the habits we are all familiar with: recent graduates heavily rely on search engines, in all aspects of their post-college lives. Not surprisingly, they also partake in a variety of social media and network sites. In the professional context, the reliance on established sources (professional conferences, open access databases, workplace information centers) was comparably high.

Contrary to popular misconception, recent graduates did not exclusively rely on social media, networking sites, and established sources. Almost all of them reported deferring to people in their immediate surroundings—supervisors, co-workers, and friends—to seek help with obtaining needed, often contextual, information. PIL researchers observed a similar preference for direct interaction in recent grads’ favoring of on-the job training (68%) and face-to-face instruction (57%) over individualized online teaching sessions (31%).

PIL researchers are quick to note that this recent study was not extensive enough to be generalizable. The findings are merely informative and offer a quick—albeit incomplete—glimpse at some of the prevalent information practices that recent graduates engage in. PIL is currently conducting further research on this topic, and the more complete findings will become available in the Fall of 2015. For now, this report encourages educators, including classroom instructors and librarians, to consider ways in which course assignments and research activities may be developed to foster students’ lifelong need to navigate the increasingly complex information landscape.

To learn more about PIL, including the full text of the report summarized above, please visit projectinfolit.org.

Marta Bladek

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