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Description: Ok, imagine you are sitting in your first class in a new course at college or university (yes in the old world where you were sitting in a lecture hall with 200 to 300 other students). Further, imagine that the professor arrives and announces that they have a few rules that MUST be followed in their class. Laptops may ONLY be used to take class notes and may NOT be used to engage with social media, watch You Tube videos or send or receive email while the class is in session and phone cannot be used for any purpose. Those breaking the rules will be told to leave the class.  So, how would you feel? What would you think of the professor? Would it help you be less put out by their statement, rules and general attitude if they went on and explained that research indicates that the use of social media another other such things while attending a lecture has been shown to be distracting and to significantly reduce student learning and so they are setting the rules for your own good? Oh and also, what about NOW when most if not all of your classes are being run on line and rules, or not, such a prof would simply never know what you were or were not during while you watch a virtual lecture or took in a podcasted or vodcasted lecture? Besides, you are an adult, and you know how you learn and how to mange distractors right? Ok well, yes, but wait a minute, ARE you managing your learning distractors effectively? Are you REALLY? Think about it for a few moments and then read the article linked below to see what a review of research in this area suggests.

Source: Distracted learning a big problem, golden opportunity for educators, students, Science News, ScienceDaily.

Date: October 14, 2020

Photo Credit:  Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Article Link:

The hypothetical class with dictatorial rules regarding social media use and other distractions does suggest a professor who is old, cranky, and out of date with current student realities and attention management skills. BUT, as an old, not cranky and, I hope, no so out of date, prof, I can tell you that it was not that long ago that a common bit of advice being offered to all who wanted to “stay up with new realties” was that they had to learn to multitask as the ability to juggle several tasks at once was going to be an adaptive requirement of our then increasingly wired world. Now, think about one word of advice you have likely seen so many times in your online wanderings lately that you have almost stopped noticing it. What comes to mind? … beginning with an M…….? Mindfulness? And what is mindfulness but an ability or state that involves setting aside distractors and focusing on the here and now. Could be called “unitasking”, couldn’t it? The main point of the linked article is that perhaps the virtues of multitasking have been pushed so hard for so long that it is difficult for many people and particularly for those relatively new to the scene to consider the alternative hypothesis that perhaps some strategic focus and avoidance or at least rationing of distractors might be valuable or perhaps even essential. Look at the data, reflect on your own experience as objectively as possible, perhaps try a few adjustments to gather some personally relevant data and then decide if distraction management should be a routine part of you moment to moment, day, week, course or life planning. The data is there to be read and used to guide planning and future adjustment. What are you waiting for, or are you too distracted to see the value?

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How distractable are you?
  2. What do you do by way of multitasking that provides you with advantages over others who do not do it and what do you do by way of multitasking that messes you up (be honest)?
  3. Do you have a clear strategy or array of strategies for managing your attention and competing distractors while you are learning (online) these days? What areas work and which area need work?

References (Read Further):

Schmidt, S. J. Distracted learning: Big problem and golden opportunity. Journal of Food Science Education. 19(4), 278-291. Link

Barker, B. B. (2017). Multitasking and distracted learning: motivation and norms (Doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State University). Link

Riordan, B. C., Cody, L., Flett, J. A., Conner, T. S., Hunter, J., & Scarf, D. (2018). The development of a single item FoMO (fear of missing out) scale. Current Psychology, 1-6. Link

Sulissusiawan, A., & Salam, U. (2017). Students’ Use of Online Resources to Enhance Learning Endeavors. International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning Environments (IJVPLE), 7(2), 44-53. Link

Lueke, A., & Lueke, N. (2019). Mindfulness improves verbal learning and memory through enhanced encoding. Memory & Cognition, 47(8), 1531-1545. Link

Gorman, T. E., & Green, C. S. (2016). Short-term mindfulness intervention reduces the negative attentional effects associated with heavy media multitasking. Scientific reports, 6(1), 1-7. Link