Adult learning theory states that adults need control and respect in their learning programs. One of the ways that I have applied this theory in classes is to allow adults to use their cellphones throughout the day for texting, as long as they are not disturbing others.
My thinking about this has been intentional and twofold:
1. Adults should be mature enough to make sensible decisions for themselves.
2. Adults will resist the learning if they feel they are being controlled like children.
But Matt Richtel’s “A Deadly Wandering: A Mystery, a Landmark Investigation, and the Astonishing Science of Attention in the Digital Age,” has changed my mind. The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist explores indepth one of the critical questions of our time – what is easy access to texting doing to us? While his book focuses primarily on research proving the dangers of texting while driving, I found clear applications to attendees at professional learning programs.
The 3 Dangers
1. The science is clear - attention is a finite resource. “Focusing on one source (a mobile device) comes at the cost of lost awareness of everything else.” In addition, Dr. David Strayer, an expert on attention, says that “it may take fifteen seconds or more after you’ve pushed ‘send’ before you’re fully back in an unimpaired state.” In a classroom or conference, this means that texting translates to much more lost learning that just the moments it takes to type a message. Over the course of an hour or a day, these moments can add up to a significant loss.
2. Most adults in your audience, but especially digital natives, receive dopamine reinforcement every time they text. Internet addiction expert Dr. David Greenfield explains, “When it’s not firing, they feel dull, dead.” These dopamine bursts become addictive and withdrawal is difficult. Dr. Michael Rich of Harvard Medical School adds, “Their brains are rewarded for not staying on task but for jumping to the next thing.” In other words, one text will most likely lead to another, and another and another. Texting becomes compulsive – quite challenging to ignore the little ding that signals another message.
3. When brains are overloaded with information, our ability to make decisions is compromised. The capacity of the brain’s frontal lobe, responsible for impulse control and long-term planning, is diminished. This constant access to texts and emails on mobile devices will affect learners’ abilities to make the best decisions during important classes. Obviously this impacts a learner’s decision about what is, and is not, important new information. But if small groups are working in class to create action plans for the company, design new safety protocols or decide on optimal time utilization, the implications for business can be enormous and dangerous.
With a much more thorough understanding of the research related to texting and attention, I have decided to change my approach to texting in my classes, while still honoring adult learning principles. Here are 3 strategies to diminish the dangers.
3 Strategies for Diminishing the Dangers
1. Place text on your welcome slide that reminds participants to turn off their cell phones. They might choose to place them on vibrate instead, but you have not proposed that option. Your message is clear that the best solution is to turn them off until the break.
2. While reviewing the logistics for your session (agenda, questions, etc.) be sure to discuss cell phone use. It is easy to find a non-threatening approach that fits your style. Examples include:
· “If a situation arises where you need to use your cell phone, please feel free to quietly exit the room so to not disturb the colleagues seated around you.”
· “Research tells us that texting and driving can be deadly. While you aren’t driving a car in class today, you are driving your learning. Research is clear that texting will distract your attention from learning our critical content.”
· “Did you know that it takes 15 seconds after hitting “send” for your brain to return to a state of unimpaired attention? One text plus 15 seconds won’t impact you too negatively. But… (pause). So please try to minimize your cell phone usage today.”
· “Please be aware of the impact your texting will have on your attention today, but more importantly, the attention of those around you.”
· “Today is a day for you to immerse yourself in learning. Treat yourself by turning you cell phone to Do Not Disturb mode and enjoy some time without distractions.”
3. Actively engage your audience. When adults are interested and involved with the content, they are less likely to be drawn to their cell phones. Provide alternative dopamine bursts through humor, movement and structured social interactions that support your learning objectives. If lecture is required (no more than 15 minutes), provide partially completed note taking guides so that participants will feel a compulsion to fill in the blanks. This is a much more productive compulsion that texting!
For even more ideas...
Anne Beninghof is passionate about teaching and learning.
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