Managing perceptions of information overload in computer-mediated communication



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Texas A&M University


Many studies report information overload (IO) as one of the main problems students encounter in computer-mediated communication (CMC). To date, researchers have paid little attention to the problem of IO?more specifically, to its impact on students? quality interaction?in educational CMC. In an attempt to fill that gap, the purposes of this study were as follows: (a) to understand the difficulties students encounter that contribute to their perceptions of IO in CMC, (b) to observe the impact of those difficulties on students? learning in online discussions, and (c) to identify students? strategies for avoiding or managing those difficulties in order to engage in quality learning. Interviews with students and computer conferencing transcripts were analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively. Interviews with 10 graduate students near the beginning of the semester revealed that although students were exposed to the same amount of information in the same learning environments, different individuals experienced different degrees of IO. Varied learner characteristics caused some students to be more susceptible to IO than others. The difficulties students encountered that contributed to their perceptions of IO included connection problems, navigation difficulties, discomfort with online communication, numerous ongoing discussion messages and endless resources, difficulty in organizing learning, and problems understanding the assigned readings. Those difficulties tended not to affect students? deep processing as observed in their discussion messages, but might influence students? online interaction with others. Students engaging in quality learning in online discussions were interviewed near the end of the semester to investigate their learning strategies. The results indicated that students used a variety of strategies to deal with those difficulties. Those strategies were related to online class preparation, identifying relevant information, processing online information and printed materials, keeping learning on track, organizing learning, and avoiding internal and external distractions. The results of this study have implications for course design.