11 April 2011

Education and Training are Required

The title of this blog is a bit of a mix of themes from Mr. Nielsen’s latest post to his Alert Box.  However, the underlying message was that users don’t actually know how to find content (broadly) and that as search improves, their abilities actually deteriorate.    The implication was that insufficient training and education (both) are provided to users related to information technology.

This scary conclusion was based on research he and his firm have been doing in Asia-Pacific.  He stated that they watched “more than 100 searches for a broad range of tasks.  Only once did I see a user change strategy.”  If you immediately thought, after reading this quote, that changing keyword terms is a change of strategy, Mr. Nielsen offers this retort: “… simple query reformulations don’t count as a strategy change because they were essentially variants on a single approach.”  In Mr. Nielsen’s example, his search research subject was trying to find the differences between a cold or influenza using the symptoms as search terms.  The actual change in strategy is when the research participant started searching for the disease rather than the symptoms.

In our work, many clients try to rely too heavily on search.  They believe good content organization (taxonomy) and tagging (metadata) are unnecessary.  With many of them implementing SharePoint, they often immediately want to install FAST because of a misplaced perception that the standard search technology is inadequate.  In fact, the real challenge is that most users don’t understand how to use search in the first place and most firms don’t invest sufficiently in good content organization.  Further, clients also haven’t provided any education or training as to the use of search, taught their users how to leverage a taxonomy to find content and/or don’t leverage features of the search engine that could improve results or reinforce the right sort of search behavior. 

As Mr. Nielsen points out, search does not solve the findability problem.  And worse yet, as engines get better at figuring out what users want, those same uses continue to degrade their ability to truly engage in research on the web.  

Firms need to invest in education for their workforce if they hope to successfully use technology (any technology).  They also need to invest in training.  The difference?  Training imparts a skill within the context of a specific situation, where education teaches a concept that can be applied in many contexts.   To be truly successful, organizations must provide both.  Then and only then will firms begin to really extract the value they’ve created with the tools they’ve implemented.