Learning powered by search engines

PENN STATE (US)—Using Internet search engines is no longer just a daily convenience, but has evolved to become part of the learning process as well, according to new research.

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

To discover the cognitive processes that underlie searching, the team 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.

Jansen says the results of this study provide useful information about how search engine use has evolved over the past decade and clues about how to design better search engines to address users’ learning needs in the future. The findings were published in the November issue of Information Processing and Management.

“If we can incorporate cognitive, affective, and situational aspects of a person, there is the potential to really move search performance forward,” Jansen concludes.

“At its core, we are getting to the motivational elements of search.”

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

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