Our attention span, basically the time interval in which we are able to remain focused on the topic at hand, has been seen to be declining. We can no longer concentrate while performing simple tasks like reading an article or attending a lecture.
In 2015 Microsoft Canada concluded that human attention spans had dropped from 12 to 8 seconds, though this was in particular reference to marketing. The release, however, coincided with a time in India where parents were questioning technology’s interference with education. The general consensus was that students seemed to have a reduced interest in their studies and the same was attributed to technological distractions.
Students were less focused during class, often zoning out and daydreaming. This, in turn, meant that students faced problems when it came to examinations. Studying became difficult because one would constantly lose focus in between and thus lose track of the progress made.
The constant loss of attention would make the entire process harder and could lead to a decrease in the marks obtained. This decline in ability to remain focused in students is supported by research. A study found that our collective attention span is actually narrowing due to the sheer volume of information we are bombarded with – a collective problem faced by all of us.
When individuals are exposed to social media where it is extremely easy to swipe away content they aren’t interested in, it sets a precedent. Students gain and lose interest in various information sources very rapidly.
This makes it difficult to focus when it comes to studying – especially when the student isn’t interested in the subject material, because they are coming from an environment of ignoring information they deem as boring.
The length of time that students are expected to concentrate on a particular activity for, also affects their attention span. Long lectures in the form of monologues go hand-in-hand with frequent lapses in attention, with distractions becoming more enticing the longer the teacher speaks.
Try imagining yourself as a student in the Indian context. Chances are the image you painted in your mind includes the visual of a teacher standing at the front of the classroom, brandishing their textbook around while they teach. There is very little in this picture that engages a student and sustains their focus. All the information being taught is available in the textbook – there is no incentive to listen to the teacher.
Now go one step further in your imagination – imagine yourself as a student online. This is the current predicament of education – the shift to the online mode over the past two years. Teachers have tried to introduce new activities to engage a student in the virtual classroom. But with distractions like the internet at their fingertips, can teachers keep the attention of their students?
This is the reality we face in our education system – the holy trinity of outdated curriculum, declining attention spans and the shift to the online mode. So what can we do to improve?
The first step is to adapt existing systems to meet the needs demonstrated by students. Technology has developed in students the desire for a faster paced learning environment with more interactive elements.
Teachers need to change their teaching style by utilising techniques of microlearning to break topics down into smaller pieces that are more likely to keep the students’ attention.
You should be very concerned about your attention span getting shorter
People in past could focus for hrs on end, they could easily wait for days & weeks
Now people cant focus enough to watch a vid thats over 1min & get anxious waiting for a 5s ad to finish or a page to load
— BROTHER LOBO 🐺⚔️ (@ellobosalvaje) September 15, 2021
Using tools like Jamboard and Moodle to interact with students in the online setting can be incredibly helpful to increase the engagement of students. Assignments and quizzes that go beyond the traditional are crucial to gauge a student’s understanding of the concept.
The decline in attention span is not all negative. We are trained by social media to identify the important and relevant information in the span of seconds and then integrate it into our daily life.
Thus, a shorter attention span implies that students can take in large volumes of information in short periods of time. Students are able to learn more concepts and understand these concepts faster. This increases the efficiency of students and enhances learning potential.
A conscious decision to redesign the existing education model and teaching techniques to factor in the shorter attention span of students is necessary for the future of education to flourish. We, as a society, must stop berating students for this too.
There have to be mindset changes that shift away from traditional expectations that say students should study for long hours to modern expectations that consider contemporary circumstances. It is key to remember that we observe a decline in attention span, not a decline in the ability to learn.