Information seeking

Information seeking online is a common trend in young people’s online behaviour. Young people use the internet for school projects, for complementary or alternative education, for investigating health or identity, and for learning new hobbies and interests of following the news. Find out about the key ways young people use the internet for information seeking.

This will help you to:

  • understand how young people seek information online
  • understand some of the trends in online behaviour
  • talk to young people about internet use
Teacher and students using iPad

School projects

Students often get their information online rather than from the school library. Research is typically done from a mix of set texts and the Internet. While some students use inappropriate sites that rely on user-generated content that hasn't been adequately vetted, and as such Internet-based research is frequently denigrated, there are many scholarly resources online that are suitable for student's purposes. Sites such as Google Scholar make it easier to find journals and articles online.

Assignments are increasingly produced and saved online instead of using software and hard-drive space offline. While teachers and computer providers often advocate keeping a backup in case of computer crashes, many users aren't diligent about backing up. Working online using services such as Google Documents means that work is auto-saved every few seconds, and can be recovered even if the computer you're working on, and all your hard drive backups (which, for home users, is typically kept next to the computer, and therefore susceptible to the same fire, flood or other disaster) are destroyed. Group projects in particular can be done collaboratively in documents hosted online capable of being updated and edited from multiple locations and accounts. Online document hosting sites often allow for customisable privacy settings tied to email accounts. This allows for people to each update the original when convenient, to edit or comment on each other's works, and to ensure that if project sections are divided amongst a group, that the format, style and quality are consistent throughout the project.

 

Complementary or alternative education

Students who want to learn more than is covered in class, who have trouble with a teacher's style, or who struggled with a topic they felt was covered too fast, can go online to find more information or a different way of explaining the topic. Alternative learning sites such as the Khan Academy [http://www.khanacademy.org/about ] are excellent resources for people of many ages, although many people are more likely to check less reliable sites which compile user generated information, like Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers or YouTube. If a young person is struggling at school, suggesting that they can learn at their own pace at home may be a good solution, as long as they are supported to critically think about the quality and credibility of websites and content.

 

Investigating health and identity

Anything a young person would be embarrassed or ashamed to ask their peers or parents about, they're likely to ask the Internet. There are shared stories, information and support for just about any health or identity concern a young person might have: diet, acne tips, menstruation, contraception and relationship advice, to name a few. This is an especially important resource for marginalised or invisible groups such as gender and sexuality diverse people, who are able to explore literature and other people's experiences on same-sex attraction or transitioning.

Health professionals need to play a role in ensuring that when young people go online looking for information, they find credible resources, and that these resources are accessible and user-friendly. Often, young people will ask un-moderated forums, because of the dual appeal of anonymity and peer support, but the person who answers may give an inaccurate, unhealthy or intolerant answer. In health promotion the honest perspectives and experiences of other young people can be invaluable in supporting information from health care professionals. ReachOut.com's youth ambassadors, and stories from young people, bolster the credibility of the information we provide about mental health.

Even when a young person is seeking treatment from their GP or other medical professional, they will often check for side effects of medications online, or get second opinions and treatment reviews from online forums and peers. One example isWhat Works 4 U, where young people review their treatment plans and anonymously allow others to check other people's experiences before starting a new medication. These are important tools that young people can use to assist them to self-direct their treatment plans.

 

Hobbies and interests

Online tutorials mean that you can learn guitar chords, knitting, carpentry, yoyo, skateboarding tricks and many other interests online. Sites host recipes, sheet music, chess strategies, sports coverage, video gaming hints and cheats, among many other things that allow young people to gain greater knowledge and skill in their personal life.

 

News and current affairs

Young people, along with the rest of the population, are increasingly getting their news online, either from the online editions of traditional media outlets, such as ABC, or news sites that are primarily online, such as Crikey or New Matilda.

Additionally, individual bloggers can attract a readership. Some of these bloggers are citizen journalists, reporting on what life is like as a gay Muslim in Tehran, or from within the public service in Canberra, or attracting a readership by recounting everyday experiences that others can relate to. Even bloggers without original content can provide an important service in filtering and re-sharing "posts" that are of interest to their readers, as well as providing editorial comment.

A lot of sport is covered and broadcast online. Checking gossip and entertainment sites such as E!Online is also a popular pastime.

Learn about other trends

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