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Email Survival and Work Literacy

June 16, 2008

Does a Knowledge Work Skills Gap Exist?

Work Literacy asks the question; “Does a knowledge work skills gap exist?“ I answer: “You bet!”

Example Problem

For example, let’s talk about email. I find almost everybody knows about the existence of email, and most can use at least a simple version. However, for many people, anything beyond composing a simple message, opening a message, replying or forwarding, and possibly adding attachments, is an unmapped wilderness.

Many professionals feel swamped and victimized by their email load and haven’t developed effective strategies to deal with it. Many don’t know where to find out how to get more control over their inboxes, and where to get help. Their IT support, if it exists, doesn’t really know, or has a more technical approach than they can understand. And besides, everyone needs to find a strategy that works for them in their own particular situation.

I haven’t seen much information about how to deal effectively with business email publicly available. (By “publicly” I mean something people who aren’t sophisticated in their online exploring can easily find.) The blogosphere has rumbled with information about GTD – Getting Things Done – and there’s even a way to add it to gmail, but it’s a system that’s really more aimed at geeks, according to the 43 folders blog

And Getting Things Done may be good for many geeks, but I have developed my own approach.

Example Solution

The solution I’ve found to my email dilemma has been to forward all my email addresses to gmail, where I can add one or more labels, some nicely coloured, to the emails I want/need to keep and then archive them till needed, secure in the knowledge that –

  • I have lots and lots of storage space, and don’t need to worry about filling up my quota; and
  • When I have to switch computers, whether it’s short term (I’m at my friend’s and want to check my email) or long term (I just bought a lovely new machine!) I can still access all my email on my gmail account.

In my opinion, the easiest strategy to take control of email is to use gmail. However, I have to admit that it’s my geek tendencies that have allowed me to find help by using Google to search and find –

How many people who feel lost in the online world would think to search for a solution to their email problems there?

Using gmail is a possible solution but the real problem is, how to help knowledge workers find out what they could be doing to make their lives easier. Many say they just don’t have time to learn new stuff or even look for help.

Knowledge Skills Work Gap Problem

So we have circled back to the beginning. Strategies and solutions are available, but how do we get the information out to the people who don’t know what they don’t know?

WebTools for Learners, this blog, is my attempt to help share the knowledge, but sometimes I think I’m preaching to the choir. Those who already know, approve of what I say, but do any of the real learners actually find this blog and benefit from it? I keep trying and keep looking for ideas and suggestions about how to connect with those who need to know.

Any suggestions?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Virginia Yonkers permalink
    June 16, 2008 4:34 pm

    OMG–I’m a Geek! I was surprised to see that I met all the criteria. However, one thing that is different from the “ITS” geek, is that I am always trying to make technology accessible to the non-techie. In this, I think your blog is very useful and I think you should look at it as a way to help others who are helping to bring others into the technological world (face it, if they aren’t there yet, they aren’t going to find the answers on a Blog–they’ll want to have a print out of it!).

    I have begun to make blogs like yours and Vicki Davis’s required reading (rather than a text).

    Your example about e-mail begs the question, however, how are we, as instructors and instructional designers doing to make our students aware of the work skills gap? I see a lot of antidotal information, but few systematic studies about how these technologies are being used in the workplace (a lot about teens and home use) and the impact this is having on work. When creating my course last winter, I had a very difficult time finding any discussion, much less studies, on the impact to the organization on the use of these new technologies. Also, what studies I found were focused on one tool rather than looking at the whole class of tools.

    E-mail is a great example as we now have different generations of e-mail (I remember when e-mail required coding before the world wide web). Yet “e-mail” is lumped into one category. I use 3 different e-mails for three different situations and one I have a lot of control over, while the other two control my experience. Each is different and has taken me a while to figure out the features. However, as I have good problem solving skills (I am a geek after all) I am not intimidated in teaching myself how to use them. It would be nice to have a “mentor” to talk me through them though.

  2. June 16, 2008 6:55 pm

    Hey we geeks recognize each other at an almost subliminal level;-> The fact is, we geeks perceive and think in similar ways! Seriously, I wonder whether there’s a big switch going on, whether what once were labeled “learning disabled” behaviors are actually supportive of learning how to use the web, and the conservative, rule-bound behaviors (there might be some prejudice here) that used to rule in schools is now a drag on learning to use the web. Are the ADDers now Attention Ability Failitators (AAFers)and the “Normals” ARDers (Attention Reduced Disability? Have you ever noticed that just as educational organizations are reluctant to embrace the treasures of the web, so many strong web people have dropped out of school or find it on and through the web?

  3. June 17, 2008 8:20 am

    Great post and Great question – “Strategies and solutions are available, but how do we get the information out to the people who don’t know what they don’t know?”

    Part of it is aligning solutions and strategies to what people do day-to-day, but there’s a lot more to it. Maybe this is THE problem for work literacy.

  4. Virginia Yonkers permalink
    June 17, 2008 8:41 am

    I actually blogged about this recently. I feel that we are demanding a more spatial way of thinking that traditionally “good” students were never required to do (at least until a Master’s level). This especially obvious in writing. Last year when teaching a course in Computer supported writing across the curriculum, I was surprised at the difficulty many of my students (teachers) had in writing hypertext. The exceptions were those that identified themselves as “poor” writers. The good writers could write without an outline (I was never one of them).

    My theory is that outlines force a spatial thinker to organize thoughts linearly. The difficulty I had as a spatial thinker was to try to teach linear thinkers to think spatially. Concept maps helped, but it was difficult to get them to make the connections between ideas. I wonder what will happen to those that think outside of the box when all of a sudden the box is changed and now they are “inside” the box.

  5. June 17, 2008 6:34 pm

    Hi Joan-
    Thanks for the facinating post. I love the gmail solution that use – it is quite innovative. We have recently been delving into this email problem and what we can do to help people in business solve some parts of it easily and inexpensively.

    We have just created a new product to help people deal with “publicly” available business email. We found it to be a problem for our company and built a solution for our own use:

    We provide small business an easy, no IT knowledge required, online service, where they can consolidate all their publicly available business email such as and Email Center Pro ( allows a business owner to have as many users as he or she needs helping answer all this publicly facing email, makes it available from any computer with an internet connection, and helps make sure that these email address do not clutter up someone’s inbox.

    I would love to hear what people think of our solution!
    Sabrina Parsons
    Palo Alto Software


  1. Blog personal de Enrique Rubio » Blog Archive » En relación con la actividad diaria… ¿existe una necesidad de adecuación al espacio ‘web’ por parte de los profesionales cualificados?.

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