Search engines are teachers

Penn State researchers have conducted a study into the use of search engines and conclude that we don't just search to find out facts, but rather, to learn:
The researchers sought to discover the cognitive processes underlying searching. They examined the search habits of 72 participants while conducting a total of 426 searching tasks. They found that search engines are primarily used for fact checking users' own internal knowledge, meaning that they are part of the learning process rather than simply a source for information. They also found that people's learning styles can affect how they use search engines.

"Our results suggest the view of Web searchers having simple information needs may be incorrect," said Jim Jansen, associate professor of information sciences and technology. "Instead, we discovered that users applied simple searching expressions to support their higher-level information needs."

Search Engines Are Source of Learning


  1. What we really need is a search engine to find a link for “that guy, you know, the one who did all that stuff”.

  2. if this behaviour is detectable by based on expression structure and history, probably monetize it more efficiently by selling results based on some markov scheme of predicted search. google recommends or something.

  3. While I can’t claim to be an expert on SEO or search in general, I know a decent amount about it. Google is incredible but even all of the tricks that I know sometimes don’t get me everything that I want on the first try.

    I think that the key phrase here is “source.” I start my learning process with Google or Wikipedia but really try to dig a bit deeper than mere search to consider myself “learned.”

  4. Maybe Google could help me find research with similar findings, but a bigger N than 72. Jeeze… what they get a way with in some fields.

  5. Having been both teacher and library media specialist – and been trained as both – I think you meant “search engines are librarians.” I’m a teacher now, and as far as I can tell, my job is teaching critical thinking coupled with a particular knowledge base; it’s library professionals who both support the process of applying “simple searching expressions to support their higher-level information needs,” and teach others how to apply, select, and manage those higher-level information needs.

    Those who believe librarians are merely Oracular locators of and organizers of information, rather than viral passers-on of information literacy skills, of course, are likely to suggest that I got it wrong myself. But selling librarians short would be nothing new.

  6. @boyhowdy I agree that search engines are much like librarians. Except, at what point do search engines “pass on information literacy skills?” Indeed, search engines are a medium to pass on these skills, but there is no active guidance that says, “You probably shouldn’t use that decaying live journal entry as a primary source.”

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