How’s Your Attention?

Family dinner at our house can be somewhat chaotic.

Child 1: “Mom, guess what my teacher told me today?”

Child 2: “Mom, are you listening? I just told you I need to bring donuts for advisement tomorrow. Can you get them for me?”

Child 1: “Hey, you’re interrupting me. I’m trying to tell mom what happened today.”

Child 2: “I was talking first!”

Sometimes my head literally spins. And my husband is no help as he grew up in a family where they rarely had dinner conversation, so I can never count on him to keep up!

Actually this type of demand on our attention occurs all around us. We live in a world where our brains are continually stimulated with information, mostly due to the Internet and the advancement of technology.  A study done by the University of California, San Diego reports that on an average day, we consume “100,500 words, whether that be email, messages on social networks, searching websites or anywhere else digitally.” Our smartphones that we’re glued to can trigger stimuli much like drugs and alcohol. How long are you awake before checking your smartphone? Most of us check it within 15 minutes of waking up.

This information overload has consequences on how we think and process information. We’re moving from a culture of “deep attention” to “hyper attention.” Deep attention is the ability to concentrate on one object or information stream for long periods of time, ignoring outside stimulation. Conversely, hyper attention switches focus between multiple information streams, with a preference for high stimulation and a lower tolerance for boredom. In other words, our attention spans are shrinking.

What does this mean for learning? It means we must adjust our design to accommodate this shift. We must design learning solutions in smaller, bite-sized pieces that will resonate with the decreased attention spans. The latest buzz is around micro-libraries, which provide learners with just that. The information is designed to be:

  • Assessed quickly
  • Short and specific, targeted at a certain skill
  • Segmented in bite-sized chunks, so it is easily digestible
  • Accessed via the same technology that we are already glued to—smartphones

What are some innovations your learning department is using to adjust to this new paradigm?

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