Information Scarcity & Information Abundance

In a number of blog entries I have written, I hint at the massive paradigm shift we are experiencing in education. From a world (and an educational philosophy) built on information scarcity, we have suddenly found ourselves in a world of information abundance.

This is the basis for my arguments about Learning Spaces, Lecture Theatres, What do these Walls Say, Teaching Resources, and Teaching with Blogs. However, I don’t think I have articulated very well exactly what I mean. In a broader context, I don’t know that we (as a community) have done very well in embracing this fundamental shift in the ground beneath our feet. The foundations of our institutions are built on the fundamental assumption that information is scarce. There is no real discussion about what this might mean in terms of our educational model, and there is certainly no clear leadership from the top in showing us the way to adjust to the new world.

Close your eyes and carry on!

In John Naughton’s ALT-C 2011 keynote, on of his examples of the internet overwhelming a business model is the newspaper business. In the case of the news business, it wasn’t the fundamental business of journalism that has been swept away by the internet, but the funding of the journalism business through the selling of classified ads that has disappeared. Most of us thought the business model was all about journalism, however, the managers knew that the money came in through classified ads, and journalism was the public face of the advertising business.

In higher education, the business model is all about carrying out research, being supported by teaching and learning and the funding that this attracts. The idea worked out brilliantly well when information was scarce and anyone who seriously wanted to learn needed to pay homage to the vase knowledge repositories that were universities. Students and governments would pay enormous amounts to institutions to access and study the knowledge that was available, and only available, through them.

We no longer live in a world where information is scarce. Information, and all of it (in spite of institutional resistance) is (or soon will be) freely available. Our entire model is based on information being scarce. At the ALT-Conference, John Naughton was asked how the journalism world missed the internet tidal wave that swamped them, and he replied that when you are inside a sinking ship, you really don’t know what is happening around you. I guess that after the Costa Concordia wreck, you could say that we in the Higher Education ship are in the lull before we can really see the water (at which point it will be too late) when the Captain is assuring us that we are experiencing an electrical fault, and that we have nothing to worry about.


24 thoughts on “Information Scarcity & Information Abundance

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  10. Hi! I’m searching to find more out about this notion of information scarcity. Do you know where the term came from and who first used it? Who else is talking about this? Thank you! I like this series as it fits with what I am thinking about inquiry learning in the information age and want to make this connection to why inquiry learning is an important shift to make.


    1. Sorry for the long delay in replying. I have been away from blogging for quite a while, and have just now returned. I am not aware of anyone else who has used the terms in the same way I have. I remember when I first started writing about abundance and scarcity that I was frustrated that I couldn’t find anything written about the massive shift that we have witnessed over the past couple of decades.


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