Learning Technologies Newsletter

ISSUE 9 - February 2006 - by Phil Chambers

TIME TO READ: 5 minutes (Average Reader), less than a minute (Speed Reader) - Word Count: 1,059. To learn more about Speed Reading Contact us.

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Welcome to the February issue of the Learning Technologies Newsletter and a special welcome to 16 new subscribers this month. This newsletter currently goes out to over 100 people. Please continue to forward it to friends and colleagues who you think would find it useful.

This month, as well as our regular quote of the month and Mind Mapping tip, we share some ideas on how to escape from information overload.

Quote of the Month

" He is wise who knows the
sources of knowledge -
where it is written and
where it is to be found."

A.A. Hodge
(1823-1886), Professor in Systematic Theology at Princeton Seminary

For many more quotes click here.

Mind Mapping Tip of the Month

...to get through a large number of books in a short time... with a group of friends. Each person choose a book and go through the process of Mind Mapping it. Then photocopy everyone's Mind Maps so that you each have a copy. Each person in turn explains his or her Mind Map to the group. Colour in the photocopies and add your own images and notes to personalise them.

For another 100 tips on Mind Mapping see "101 Top Tips for Better Mind Maps" by Phil Chambers, available from our online shop, click here.

Survival Strategies when Drowning in Data

Thank you to everyone who replied to my survey last month. One of the recurring themes was an interest in Mind Maps and a need to overcome the glut of information that we are deluged with on a daily basis. When I worked in IT, many years ago, my manager would joke that trying to find something on his desk buried under mountains of paper constituted data mining and I should add it to my CV (Data Mining is a technical term for extracting knowledge from a database).

So how do you avoid drowning in the vast amount of information that we all get from the web, e-mail, magazines, newspapers, books, memos, letters, etc? You need to be selective.

With letters and memos try to only touch each piece of paper only once. Make an immediate decision, is this important or not. Stephen Covey talks about the difference between urgency and importance in his book "First Things First". In essence something is either urgent or non-urgent and either important or unimportant (as defined by whether it gets you closer to your goals or not). If something is unimportant and non-urgent then you can ditch it or delegate it. We waste hours some days doing things that are truly unimportant. Then there are the things that are unimportant but urgent. You may have to do these but do not have to spend too much energy making sure they are perfect, after all they are unimportant. The important, urgent things have to be done now and done well. These tasks characterise reactive management - fire fighting and trouble shooting. Often we are so busy that the non-urgent but important things are neglected. However, if you remove as many of the unimportant things as you can this leaves time to do some of these. This is proactive management - Tackling things before they become urgent therefore saving more time. As the ancient proverb states, "a stitch in time saves nine".

With newspapers and magazines it is even easier to be selective as the headlines give you a clue as to whether an article is important to read. Do you really need to know the gossip about "Celebrity Big Brother"? E-mail headers also help, as does anti-spam software except when it overzealously deletes something useful. I recently embarrassingly turned up a at a friend's house unannounced after her e-mail software deleted my message confirming what date and time I would be visiting because it had an unrecognized attachment.

So if you are to avoid over-reliance on technology the key is to EXTRACT the useful stuff. This is where Mind Maps come in. With books there are often some areas that are more important than others. Look at the table of content and decide if you need everything. If it is a key book and you do need it all then you can start with the section headings - These are the Main Branches of your Mind Map. Then go to chapter headings - These are your second level. Then headings within chapters - Your third level and you haven't started 'reading' yet. It is a good idea to tear up lots of strips of scrap paper to act as bookmarks. Go through the entire book spending no more than a couple of seconds per page. You are not aiming to read at this stage but simply to identify where the information is concentrated. You will bookmark charts and illustrations, summaries, key points in boxes, case studies. Whatever draws your attention and looks like it contains a lot of data.

After you have gone through the entire book, which will usually take between 10 minutes and half and hour, go back to the places where you put the bookmarks. This time just read the beginnings and ends of paragraphs. This is where the most information is concentrated. Summaries are also very useful.

This approach of starting with a high level overview of a book and then filling is the detail is analogous to the way that a 'progressive jpeg' picture loads over a slow internet connection. First you see a blocky image that gradually refines into a clear photograph. You can decide if it's what you want before it is fully loaded. In the same way you can often get all you need from a book without reading every page.

Best of luck in your data mining!

Valentine's Day - A Date to Remember

February 14 th is the deadline for using "Chip and PIN" security with credit and debit cards in the UK. We will cover some tips to help you remember multiple PIN numbers next month.

That's all for this month. If you have any comments or suggestions please feel free to contact me.