your attention, please!

…this ID is backing up! today i wondered about the definition of “attention”. (yes, i’m weird like that.) i have a problem with people spouting theories without clearly defining what they mean (ref Keller’s ARCS).

theory rocks!

Waddaya mean, “how does theory matter?” 😛

in eLearning, we have a by-now-hard-coded notion of what strategies should be like to gain the learner’s attention, without ever having bothered to look at what attention is, or to clarify what we mean by the word when we use it. i looked it up. to avoid further distortion, i’m sharing a verbatim quote from a psychologist who has written one of psychology’s definitive works – principles of psychology – in 1890. (yes, it’s been around since then and still we haven’t bothered to look up the definition/description and build on it. no, i don’t know why either.)

It is the taking possession by the mind in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought…It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.
“Consciousness, then, does not appear to itself chopped up in bits. Such words as ‘chain’ or ‘train’ do not describe it fitly as it presents itself in the first instance. It is nothing jointed; it flows. A ‘river’ or a ‘stream’ are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described. In talking of it hereafter let us call it the stream of thought, of consciousness, or of subjective life.”

[emphasis in the original]

– William James, Principles of Psychology (1890)

and then a thought struck me. i looked up learning strategies for people with ADD (cos i also suspect i may have mild ADD). i figured, what is helpful for the people who most have trouble with staying focussed must be helpful (or at least not an impediment) to everyone in general, and if something isn’t a crucial part of what will help people with ADD to focus, it probably isn’t essential for the rest either.

killer sentence that, want a breather before continuing to read?! 😉

okay. so i wanted to verify if things like stating an objective at the start, or any of the other things we do supposedly to help with attention actually have been studied to be useful. look for yourself, here are a couple of samples to get started. 1, 2.

isn’t that interesting? different bunch of things from what we do. i’ll admit somewhere along this stream of thought i sneered in passing at the notion i’ve heard – read! – that a splash screen or an animation will “get the learner’s attention”. but that’s certainly not the sum of it. i’ve nothing against framing and sharing objectives per se… it’s just these established “must dos” in our profession don’t seem to be proved.

i also think it has more value and purpose to discuss “paying attention”, or getting the learner to concentrate on the session, than discuss how to “get” someone’s attention. (in fact, the word “concentrate” barely features in our discussions and theories… why is that?!)

so i guess what i’m saying is, given the state of the proofs we have, it’s all the more reason to think out things ourselves. i don’t know about you, but it’s definitely back to first principles for me!