Now comes a study, Selectively Distracted: Divided Attention and Memory for Important Information, by Middlebrooks, Kerr, and Castel of UCLA, summarized by Sciencedaily.com, suggesting that background distraction can be overcome . . . by "strategic attention", characterized this way:
"The ability to prioritize high-value information during study was consistently immune to the effects of divided attention, regardless of the extent of the distractions that participants faced . . . the current results intimate that divided attention did not incapacitate metacognitive mechanisms in either of the current experiments leaving participants capable of judging their memory capacity, performance, and methods by which they might compensate for additional demands on attention (p. 32)"
Subjects were subjected to various distractions while learning sets of words, such music and having to attend to random numbers during the treatment phase. Although overall performance/recall was not quite as high among the "distracted", they were later equally successful in recalling key words in the post tests.
This sounds like partial validation of the "hyper-cognitivist's" position that just by pointing out (pronunciation) errors or pointing to key (phonological) features in texts, for example, learners may "uptake" such focused input and effectively make use of that information later. Could be. We have all witnessed such potentially "teachable moments", but with so many other things going on in the classroom environment, what are the chances, really?
According to the study, it all comes down to what has been prioritized by the learner, the instructor and the context. Wow. But wait . . . just who were the subjects? Any chance that they were just more naturally adept at dealing with distraction? 192 paid undergraduates, probably in introductory psychology courses, the usual guinea pigs in such studies. Interestingly, the researchers do not comment on the young millennials' social media competence.
Any number of other recent studies have observed, seemingly to the contrary, that the "hyper-media generation" is in some respects less capable of keeping their eye on the ball. (Even the NBA has gotten the message, planning to shorten games!) Surprise . . .
The good news: Perhaps upcoming generations are in fact becoming more "immune" to distraction in learning and studying, especially in certain e-contexts. If so, that has intriguing implications for instructional design and tolerance for random iPhone use in class.
The bad news: Wonky studies like this one can easily distract us (or at least me!) from the more important work of creating classrooms where our priority, our attention is focused totally on effective teaching and learning. Just thought that I should point that out . . .
Association for Psychological Science. (2017, June 21). Strategic studying limits the costs of divided attention. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170621082442.htm