Information Overload: What It Is, Its Consequences and How to Avoid It

Information Overload in a Digital World

Information overload is something not just employers are facing, but it’s becoming a problem in people’s everyday lives as well. When you’re dealing with too much information, it impacts your ability to make decisions and remain productive, but with a constant barrage of emails, communication, social media and more, it’s difficult to avoid.

Information Overload in a Digital World

The human brain is designed to process and retain information in very particular ways, and that doesn’t necessarily change or speed-up in the face of changing technology. Many of us are finding that despite how much knowledge and information we have access to in our modern times, it’s actually harder than ever before to retain it. That makes us slower when it comes to decision making, and it can be a big detriment for employees.

It costs nothing in most cases to access a range of information, and also for people to forward that information on to others. Regarding the workplace, that can mean employees are receiving emails and other forms of communication throughout their day that may have very little, if any, impact on their job or their day-to-day life. It could be they’re on the receiving end of mass emails that go to everyone in the office, and it’s just one more bit of information clogging their brain’s processing channels.

This constant flow of information can also mean employees are presented with wrong facts and figures, which may necessitate they conduct their own research on a topic, requiring them to process even more information.

It’s a continuous and sometimes destructive cycle that’s proving to be a significant problem for employers.

Consequences of Information Overload

Recently the results of a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and the American Institute of CPAs, which showed information overload was one of the number one contributors to poor decision making in global business.

The survey said the following: 36% say their organization is not coping with information overload, and 32% say big data has actually made things worse while 37% say it has helped.

Along with weakened decision making, information overload can also lead employees to feel unnecessarily overwhelmed and stressed out. Your employees may not even have too much on their plate, but information overload can create the perception they do. This can lead to a lack of engagement, a loss of productivity and a high employee turnover rate when in reality it’s entirely avoidable.

You may also run the risk of making your employees feel unprepared or inadequate when they’re bombarded with information, particularly bits that aren’t relevant to them. They may be on the receiving end of information they don’t need to know, but because they’re receiving it, they may feel like it’s something they’re expected to be part of, or to understand.

Too much information, particularly when it’s unnecessary or irrelevant, can also confuse employees on their job role and make them unsure of where to focus their attention.

Employees who report information overload tend to become frustrated and give up more easily than their non-overloaded counterparts, they need more time to make decisions, and they frequently make mistakes, often because of confusion. They can also have a hard time identifying pertinent goals and how to achieve those, and they tend to waste a lot of time in the workplace.

Training Overload

Employee training is an enormous source of information overload, which is one of the primary reasons so many businesses report a disappointing return on investment for training budgets.

Some of the signs of training information overload include:

  • Text-centric presentations where trainees are expected to read massive amounts of information, whether on a screen or in printed materials.
  • Monotonous, long training that doesn’t engage critical thinking or problem-solving skills but instead just throws lots of technical information at employees over extended periods of time.
  • Training management software that’s too complex or challenging to navigate.
  • Training that isn’t specifically relevant to the trainees’ life and job.
  • Materials that require a trainee to be present at a certain time, in a certain place and for a given period of time.

Overcoming Overload in Training

While information overload can occur throughout the workplace, for our purposes we’re focusing on training and how it can be alleviated within this area.

Consider these tips which can simplify your e-Learning, maximize its impact and help learners to avoid the pitfalls of too much information:

  • Create a simple learning interface that doesn’t have a lot of distractions. Make sure it’s intuitive and test your overall e-Learning design with a varied audience before implementing it. You want your employees to focus on the relevant information, rather than what’s happening in and around the screen.
  • Give learners freedom. If you’re forcing employees to take in information on your terms, it can be overwhelming and frustrating. Using a cloud-based learning management system (LMS) is the best way to let trainees learn in a way that’s flexible, comfortable for them and manageable. Rather than tying them to training in a rigid way, a cloud-based learning management system gives them a sense of freedom that’s going to help them avoid feeling overloaded and overwhelmed. Here’s how to implement an LMS.
  • Despite the high-tech offerings of e-Learning and online training, it’s often best to stick with the basics. Don’t try to go too high-tech with your design, navigation or overall layout. Simple is often the best approach and it will stand out to learners because it’s in such contrast to much of the rest of their digital-centric lives.
  • Start e-Learning courses with an outline or overview that lets learners know the topic they’ll be responsible for learning, why it’s relevant, how it will be presented and how long it should take. If you are giving assessments at the end, make sure you give learners a heads-up at the start of the course. This will not only help learners feel more engaged, but it will also reduce their feelings of being overwhelmed.

Information overload isn’t a problem that’s likely to be solved anytime soon, and it may actually continue becoming increasingly troublesome for employers, which is why it’s important to take proactive steps to reduce it in your workplace.

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