Decreasing Attention Spans And The Effects On Learning – Jennifer Oaten

It is no secret that the average attention span of people has decreased over the years. This is especially true for young people, who are bombarded with constant stimulation from digital devices and social media. They rely more on social media to boost their esteem, and as a result, they get caught in an addictive loop that is satisfied by being connected to technology.

The masses of online information, a never-ending information highway to navigate, an urge for new information, and the fear of missing out have resulted in people continually scrolling.

The constant barrage of information we view suggests that we have developed a preference for shorter, faster messages. Otherwise, we quickly move on to the next post or message. We focus on specific things for shorter periods of time and rarely enter a deep state of focus and concentration. We may skim more widely but lack any depth of concentration.

This trend was foreseen many years ago by Nobel-winning economist Herbert Simon when he said…

"A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention."

What is to blame for the shortened attention spans?

Technology addiction, societal pressure and the increasing flow of information are to blame for today’s shorter attention spans among students.

Constant digital stimulation is one of the primary reasons why children’s attention spans are short. Every time they get a notification on their phone or see an update on social media, their attention is drawn away from what they should be concentrating on. It becomes difficult for children to retain information and focus on tasks as a result of this constant distraction.

Another reason for the reduced attention span is how information is presented to students nowadays. With the advent of the internet, students have become used to receiving information in small, bite-sized pieces. They are accustomed to skimming through texts rather than reading them in depth or with care. This habit of ‘skimming’ can carry over into their schoolwork and make it difficult for them to focus on longer tasks or lectures.

This reduction in the attention span of students can have a serious impact on their learning. When students are constantly being pulled away from their work, they have difficulty retaining information. Additionally, if students are only used to receiving information in small pieces, they may have trouble understanding complex concepts or critical thinking.

By understanding the reasons behind the reduced attention span of students, we can work to combat its effects and help students learn more effectively.

How can we support improved concentration?

1. Engaging Information

  • Use a variety of interactive techniques to keep students actively involved in learning, such as storytelling, hands-on activities, and group work.
  • Encouraging active review and reinforcing the material through practice activities, games, and other creative methods can make learning more engaging and increase focus.
  • Being selective of content is also important to prevent cognitive overload and consider the most effective means of delivering information.

2. Bite Size Learning

  • Microlearning, which may include blogs, games, quizzes, podcasts, simulations and videos, is an e-learning format that is more effective and convenient and enables students to control their time and learning experience.
  • Learning at school should avoid rambling on and covering too many topics in one sitting. Being clear, to the point, and often checking for understanding helps to improve focus and concentration.

3. Identify Triggers

  • Help students identify their personal distractions and triggers. Some students may be more easily distracted than others, so it’s important to help them identify their triggers and devise strategies for dealing with them.
  • Understanding how the brain works and how technology impacts the brain are essential learnings.

4. Attention Strategies

  • Students can use various techniques to focus their attention, such as focussing on one task at a time and breaking down tasks into smaller goals.
  • Helping students learn how to manage their stress levels, as high levels of stress can also lead to difficulty paying attention. Meditation, breathing exercises, and journaling are great ways to help reduce stress.
  • Studies have shown that listening to certain types of music can help improve focus and concentration. The kind of music is crucial.

5. Brain Breaks

  • If students show signs of restlessness or fatigue, brain breaks where students learn for 30 minutes and then take a break means learning is more effective for longer.
  • Moving around or doing brain-teaser activities helps to re-engage their minds. Making sure students are getting enough downtime away from screens, exercising, and engaging in other active pursuits can help them focus.
  • Physical activity can help improve focus and concentration, so encourage students to take breaks throughout the day and explain the importance of ‘aerating’ the brain.
  • Take a few minutes each day to do something that is unrelated to work or school, such as reading for pleasure, spending time in nature, or listening to music. This will help refresh and rejuvenate the brain.

Young people often don’t realise the negative ways in which technology can impact their ability to focus. If we help them understand this, they can develop strategies to improve concentration and enhance learning overall.

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