Multitasking looks like a nowadays trend. We watch TV while we eat, we read while we drink, we talk on the phone while we drive, we listen to the music while we cycle. We are hungry and maybe adicted for doing as many actions as possible at the same time. Controversially, the scattered attention leads to worse learning, lower retention of reading material, a drop in accuracy, decreased clarity in writing, math and science. Lets expose attention with some light.

It is good to start thinking what is our attention span in the classroom. How long can we focus on the material before we think of the clock and want to end the classroom? Some of us will say 10 min, some 20 min, perhaps even 30 min, but maximum 45 minutes. As a result, perhaps classes should be divided into small segments to maintain the attention rather than going through one topic without a pause, with the same tempo, with monotonous rhythm. Perhaps all sort of presentations should be divided into 15 minutes intervals so that to grab attention. Maybe the presentations could be more wavy – starting with something interesting to hook up, then developing the subject for a while till our attention span goes down and restart with something interesting again.

What elements are responsible to grab and maintain the attention? It seems that there are at least three ingredients:

  • attention is grabbed if our previous experience (memory) tells so
  • we are interested in the subject and
  • we are aware of the present moment and the topic

Memory of the previous experience is significantly influenced by emotions, which were experienced at the moment of the past event. We tend to remember those advertisements that show something emotionally shocking, contrasting. More interestingly, we tend to remember and record the emotions (the general sense of the situation, the thrill) of the previous event rather than every detail.

We remember sentences better than the words separately, even though sentences can have much higher number of words. It means we remember the meaning and the symbol first before the details. It is thus people remember better things if they attribute certain symbols and patterns. As a result, experts of every single field have just better organisation and concepts of information that guide them through the field, rather than knowing many facts and formulas. For an entrepreneur it means starting strong from the core (passion, problem statement and idea formulation) and the rest will follow.

Here we come to multitasking. Fortunately, we can multitask on physical activities, such as playing piano with both hands, but unfortunately, our brain can work only in sequential order, meaning one thought, one unit of concentration at a time. Research shows that a person takes 50% longer and makes 50% more errors to accomplish a task if he/she was interrupted! Thus, there is so much sense in forbidding talking on the phone while driving.

Attention requires a break. We have so much information during the day that in order to pay attention to something new and have a desired result, we need to reflect and digest first. Before going to the next bit of information, we have to pause and reflect where we are. As a result reflection methods, such as diary or meditation are very helpful tools over long-term for a better learning.

Consequently, learning is enhanced if we pay attention. And we pay attention, when we are focused, not interrupted. Why not then to create time intervals of the day, where we do not use emails, facebook, phone or reading news?