Research on the information process
Last updated 19th May, 2001

Bereiter and Scardamalia (1985) suggested that students often develop coping strategies that hinder their development of expertise in complex learning tasks. For example; on teaching notetaking to secondary students:

'Many students have been copying ‘chunks’ successfully for years because they have not developed their skills of analysing and synthesising ideas, and because they have not been heavily penalised, still manage to achieve moderate success, and therefore see no reason to change to a more difficult method, even if it’s superior’
The implications for primary schools are enormous. If skills and habits are not developed early, it may be too late to be changed at the secondary level, despite the best of teaching and intentions. Students passing through an RFF primary library are therefore disadvantaged as skills may not have been able to be developed in context.

Garland (1995) interviewed students and teachers and found that links to current learning are essential. Research built on content studied in class and where students have some prior knowledge provided greater levels of interest and motivation. Students generally faced research tasks with uncertainty and apprehension. Teacher and teacher-librarian intervention throughout the whole process could successfully moderate those feelings. Students needed practical help, not just with identifying and locating information, but also internalising and making sense of information. The message was 'do not abandon students'. Teachers acknowledged that this help reduced plagiarism.

Jones (1993) found in her review of the literature that the research consistently asserts that students need intervention, at key stages. From her own research in Queensland she found that

'Many teachers did not have a clear understanding of the many and varied skills required in the search process and their difficulties. They felt that by providing detailed instructions they were giving their students sufficient direction to complete the task.'
Very few teachers checked more than the rough draft, and many did not even do that. Teachers were not clear about the two areas, notetaking and outlining, where the greatest re-processing of information and therefore, learning, takes place. Teachers assumed students had the strategies needed. Some did not.

Kuhlthau, (1989) has uncovered difficulties that students face, and the need for time

Loertsher (1996) emphasised that students need to spend a great deal of time consuming the information they find by reading, viewing and listening. Too many students (and it may be added, teachers) do not feel they should spend time consuming; they jump over this step as they rush toward product creation.

Loertsher and Woolls (1997) reviewed the history of information literacy, in particular reviewing the literature since 1980, in the context of education, cognitive psychology and educational technology. They focused on student behaviour during the information process, and the effects of integrating information literacy.  They concluded that 'the research shows that students and teachers are not making great strides in handling the new oceans of information available to them. The way teachers design or encourage investigations, their expectations of students, the ways students understand what is expected of them, and the process by which students are performing investigations are a long way from what the literature is envisioning what should happen.' They concluded that promising techniques for teacher-librarians to impact student achievement include integration of information skills, collaborative planning and flexible scheduling.

Pitts (1995) noted that 'students were floating in a sea of information but did not know how to access more than a few useful drops.'  Stripling analysed Pitts' findings that instruction in information seeking and use must be integrated with content for subject matter learning to occur. Students have to be supported on both content and process learning strands for significant learning to occur on either. They engage in the search process in a recursive manner, moving back and forth between stages as information needs ocur. The research showed that new learning happens when a learner is confronted with a contradiction, a new idea that cannot be incorporated into an old model. This requires confrontation, or provocation. Prior understandings also need to be identified, or students will define what they need to know within the framework of their already existing mental model. Collaboration must go deeper than tag-team teaching.

Reuters commissioned research to examine the current status of information overload  round the world, and the ways in which economic and cultural factors are affecting information access and management at work and at home. In 1997, 1400 managers in in five countries were surveyed. The report stated that the information explosion was making people sick, creating inefficiencies in the workplace and blighting leisure time, giving rise to phrases such as 'analysis paralysis' and 'information anxiety'. In 1998, 1072 business executives in eleven countries were surveyed. 82% of these business leaders said that schools should be doing more to prepare children for dealing with information.

Students generally face research tasks with uncertainty, apprehension, confusion and frustration. They need to be supported when confronting new ideas and provoked into incorporating new learning. Teachers are urged not to abandon their students, and to provide interventions along the way. Unchecked, students develop coping strategies that hinder their development. Many teachers do not have an understanding of the skills required, and their difficulties. A receptive mood, an unhurried environment and a lot of time is needed.

If the teacher is not present to support students with the information process, students' motivation to confront the uncertainty of exploring new information won't assure them of success. They need a continuum between identifying prior understandings and exploring new information; a context which will be very difficulty to attain with a 'drop at the door' approach. These findings highlight the importance of pre-task planning and collaboration by teachers and teacher-librarians, the value of the teacher-librarian's expertise, and the necessity of the class teacher to work with students throughout the information process. Integration of effective information skill instruction and intervention at point of need, within tasks linked to current learning, is imperative. Development of unhelpful coping strategies needs to be prevented, with support provided.


Bereiter, C. and Scardamalia, M. 'Cognitive coping strategies and the problem of 'inert knowledge' in S. Chipman, J. Segal, and R. Glaser (eds), Thinking and learning skills, volume 2, research and open questions.  Lawrence Erlbaum, 1985, pp65-80 (cited by Jones)

Garland, Kathleen (1995) "The information search process: a study of elements associated with meaningful research tasks" School Libraries Worldwide 1/1 pp.41-53 cited by Todd  'Research Column 1', Scan 15/1 1996 available online at

Jones, Evon 'The value of research assignments'  Scan 15/3 1996

Kuhlthau, Carole 'Information search process: A summary of research and implications for school library media programs' School Library Media Quarterly 18/1, 1989

Loertsher, D 'All that glitters may not be gold' Emergency Librarian 24/2 1996

Loertscher, D. & Woolls, B. 'The information literacy movement of the school library media field: a preliminary summary of the research'.  Information rich but knowledge poor?  Emerging issues for schools and libraries worldwide. Seattle: International Association of School Librarianship, 1997.

Loertscher, D. & Woolls, B. Information literacy: A review of the research. Hi Willow Research and Publishing, 1999

Pitts, Judy 'Mental models of information.'  School Library Media Quarterly 23/3 1995 pp. 177-84

Reuters  Dying for information? An investigation into information overload worldwide London; Reuters, 1997
Reuters  Out of the abyss; Surviving the information age  London, Reuters, 1998

Stripling, Barbara 'Learning-centred libraries: Implications from research.' School Library media Quarterly 23/3 1995

NSW Teacher-Librarians   |   RFF Position paper