How Can a Distracted Generation Learn Anything?

Hardly unnoticed today is the level of distraction easily seen in today’s youth. In our digital-everything world, video screens on phones, TVs, tablets, and computers play a role in distracting attention from tasks to messages and images vying for the viewer’s attention.

Bored and distracted student trying to focus

As distraction grows incessantly, science shows the compulsion for this behavior might affect how our brains work. New research reveals that younger brains can process information faster today than at any other time, which makes task transition easier. The findings also show that people growing up in this new era seem better conditioned for constant task-to-task transition. So, how can a distracted generation learn anything?

Lack of Focus

While the new digital classroom offers new opportunities for in-depth learning to use creative skills and collaboration, the distraction resulting from constant access to devices is a detriment to the quality of learning. For students to remain on task, one underlying requirement is the ability to focus on the task at hand. Distractions caused by digital technology prevent full concentration and shutting out distractions.

Skills of attention become more critical in today’s classrooms primarily because of unnecessary distraction and less emphasis on understanding how to focus and pay attention. A worry by some is because brains in young people don’t mature anatomically until their mid-20s, and if the neural circuitry hasn’t developed by then, focused attention is unlikely to occur.

Interestingly, this attentional circuitry requires long periods of reading from textbooks, listening, and understanding what they teach in a classroom that leads to strong mental models found in highly educated people. A trend beginning to catch on is abstinence from all things digital for periods of time in a classroom setting and exercises to strengthen attention. The point is to teach young people how to concentrate and increase their ability to stay on task and tune out distractions.

Ample Evidence

A study performed by two Duke University professors, one a psychology professor and the other a neuroscience professor, focused on the self-control of 1,000 children in New Zealand and their ability to concentrate. The children were born in 1972 and 1973, and the eight-year study measured, in two-year increments, their ability to pay attention and tune out distractions.

After the study, each student was contacted when they were 32 years old to learn how they were getting on in life. Assessed were their health, financial stability, and court records. The goal was to determine each one’s ability to concentrate. They found that the ability to concentrate was the most accurate predictor of success.

A person’s ability to concentrate relates to their level of self-control and their ability to sustain certain levels of attention, emotions, and behaviors according to the study. Other findings show that those lacking sufficient self-control tend to demonstrate unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, overeating, or difficulty finding employment. Not surprisingly, the study also found as adults, children exhibiting low self-control were prone to poor health with drug dependencies and be single parents with possible money problems, and even a criminal record.

Multiple textbooks on shelves

Making the Case for Textbooks

Reading and learning from a textbook allows for extended periods of reading, which effectively ends the problem of constant distractions from digital devices. Research shows that most young people prefer reading from paper than from screens. A few decades ago talk of e-texts supplanting all forms of paper text for learning filled the minds of school administrators and meant the end of students struggling with stacks and bags of books walking the hallways of their schools.

The high cost of annual licensing of each copy of e-texts quickly ended the excitement of doing away with paper texts. However, little did they know, students prefer reading from paper versus a screen. While most young people enjoy reading from their smartphones, it’s quite challenging to cozy up to a smartphone for an extended period of reading without the inevitable distractions from derailing a perfectly good reading session.

Some people worry about the cost of textbooks to buy them outright. Owning a textbook has merit, and you’ll find the best price anywhere from Booksrun. The text is yours to keep forever. You can read it cover to cover several times at your own pace without worrying about returning it unless you plan on selling it back to the retailer. What’s better, an inexpensive option is to rent textbooks at a much-reduced price from full retail. The benefits outweigh a full-price purchase. Returns are hassle-free and include shipping at Booksrun. Whenever possible, the option to rent textbooks is the smartest choice!


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