Rob Reynolds launched an interesting discussion in the Moodle forums about what it means to be an expert in an information rich society.  I am tossing around in my head the idea that experts are moving from gatekeepers, who had access to scarce information, t0 guides, whose value is in their ability to help the non experts sort through the mass of information on a given topic.

It’s probably more accurate to call it an expansion of the expert role rather than a change, since you have to know a lot about something to be able to discern the useful information from the less useful, misleading etc.

Let me try an example.

I became a grad student BG (before Google), and spent a semester in a Bib and Methods class (though it wasn’t called that)  Many of those class sessions were spent in a small seminar room on an upper floor of the giant research library, where, by means of a series of annotated bibliographies, we were introduced to the key sources in our field, which often made an appearance during class sessions and were passed around the room.  Compared to the world at large, a Research I library was an oasis of information in 1995, so the expert could be a guide to an information rich environment. Contrast that with the much smaller liberal arts college library to which I had access in the four previous years.  In that less information rich environment, the expert was more likely to provide the information, or at least tell you exactly which information you needed to go get.

Take the above contrast, expand it by several orders of magnitude, and you have the world before and after Google.

Mark Woolkans and Mrs. Duff talk about what we will and won’t pay for, as does Rob’s original post.  I suspect we will pay for the guidance and curation, rather than the knowledge.  I could have walked into the Research Library of 1995, pulled anything off the shelf and read it. I paid to have someone guide me through the forest of data to a subject specific end. Similarly, I could go gather off the Interwebs stacks of information about…..say nuclear medicine, but I don’t know enough about nuclear medicine to make heads or tails of it if I did.  So if I sought an expert, it would most likely be for guidance and grounding in the topic, to the end that I would have enough skills to process the pile of information.   Generalized critical thinking skills are an important first step, but there is likely to be long term demand for experts who can help expand those general skills into specific domains.