The Age of Highly Distracted Students (and it’s going to get worse…)
I came across a YouTube video a few days ago (while I was distracted *ahem*) that highlighted how disconnected we are from one another. And the cause being technology.
There was a statistic it opened with that caught my attention (…yes caught my attention, while distracted).
“You know the average person spends 4 years of their life looking down at their cellphone?”
If this stat is true, it is quite worrying. Especially for future generations.
What will being distracted mean for the younger generation’s ability to learn, who are being immersed in more and more technology each day?
Before you take this post as some criticism towards technology, let me clear the air.
Technology is one of the MOST important tools in improving education, training, and growing the skill-set of students.
(We, K2AV, are a technology provider for education so there may be slight bias from our end because we have designed and implemented solutions that have had dramatic results in hundreds of schools across the state…END of shameless plug).
Technology without the right training, and without direction,
Is similar to (but a less dramatic version of) handing a 1 year old a knife and hoping he won’t injure himself.
While we’d all like to believe we are exceptional multitaskers, WE ARE NOT.
And by “we”, I mean virtually everyone on the planet. So educators, you aren’t excluded.
There are numerous studies that have conclusively proven that multitasking:
- Isn’t possible — Link
- Rewires your brain for the worse — Link
- Lowers your IQ (equivalent to taking drugs) — Link
And many more…
But if you still think you, or one of your students, is the exception to this, send them a link to this test and see whether that is the case — http://bit.ly/supertaskertestk2av
Continuous Partial Attention
The problem we have today is that we have a classroom full of students who are unable to focus on one task, and one task only, for a sustained period of time.
The type of attention that is critical if you are to do, or learn, something properly.
We have entered the age of “continuous partial attention”.
…And it is getting worse.
Let me tell you about an experience my friend shared with me.
My friend told me his son asks him to change all his social media passwords, and take away his phone a few weeks before each exam period (typically 3 weeks).
Getting past the initial unease, the rise in productivity his son says he achieves, because of the momentum which builds on itself as he gets more and more focus, and time to put towards one task — makes a MASSIVE difference to his performance.
And that, I believe, may be the answer…
Technology is not to blame, poor training of how to use technology may be.
There are teachers in numerous classrooms across the world that completely ban the use of smartphones and other technologies during a lesson.
And it seems to have little, or no impact.
Because you can prevent someone from eating a slice of cake when she is there in front of you. But as soon as you aren’t around, it doesn’t mean she isn’t going to eat as much cake as she possibly can, in fact even more, because of being restricted.
Considering the use and implementation of technology is going to go grow in the years to come, the training on where it all fits and how it should be used…
Attention Is Like A Muscle
Perhaps the most well known study on concentration is a study that was conducted with over 1,000 children in New Zealand by Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi.
The study tested children born in 1972 and 1973 regularly for eight years, measuring their ability to pay attention and to ignore distractions.
Then, the researchers tracked those same children down at the age of 32 to see how well they fared in life.
The ability to concentrate was the strongest predictor of success.
Currently students have their brains programmed in such a way that there isn’t enough mental resilience to avoid the distraction.
In fact, they seek distraction.
Then the higher level balance of the use of technology for positive outcomes, and for entertainment purposes, is lopsided.
There is a definite possibility that we are raising a generation that is learning more shallowly than young people in the past. The depth of their processing of information is considerably less, because of all the distractions available to them as they learn.
The solution, in fact, may be quite simple
Attention is like a muscle, it needs to be trained.
1. Attention, not only so you can focus on a task, but attention (and concentration) required to avoid the distraction when it appears.
2. Attention required to develop a strength of mind.
3. Attention that lets you prioritise.
No one achieved anything great without having clear priorities and the attention to be able to stick to them when you need.
“The lack of time is actually the lack of priorities” — Tim Ferriss
When a person who spends his entire workday balancing his work tasks while…
- answering and responding to emails
- responding to texts,
- checking Whatsapp notifications,
…and thinking he had a “busy” day and checked off his 8 hours.
It is a clear realisation that this person, as a student, wasn’t taught the skill and importance of prioritisation.
Having been taught this skill and matching it with technology — it can do wonders, open up doors, and opportunities that did not exist for previous generations.
Not having been taught this skill…
…you may have nothing to show for those 4 years you spent looking down at your screen?
My story in 5 lines —
Studied to become an Engineer (did a 5.5 year double degree), but instead quit to start a record label, write a movie script, and tour the world as an MC and performer. With little savings left, co-founded now the largest AV provider to education in WA — growing it 100% year on year. Working on our next venture with aspirations to help people connect face to face in a way social media can’t.
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