Social Media and the Dwindling Attention Span

I would like to share an interesting fact: According to a survey of 2,000 people conducted by Microsoft Corp in Canada, an average human attention span is 9 seconds; the goldfish has an attention span of 8 seconds! The survey also showed that the average attention span of humans has fallen from twelve seconds in 2000 to eight seconds.

Here’s another fact: According to a study by MarketingProfs, the new millennials cannot think more than 140 characters at a stretch! Maybe this is the reason why Twitter limits the tweet to 140 characters only.

These findings are significant and perhaps worrying especially for educators that have to deal with the millennial generation in their classroom. Imagine the challenge to hold the attention of students (or participants in a training environment) in one hour face-to-face class. The challenge is even more profound for online courses.

We have to accept the fact that we are living in the world full of distraction. What kind of distraction? The smart devices, the social media and the BIG DATA!

Statistics published by Digital 2016 reported these figures: 3.419 billion Internet users (46% penetration) and 2.307 billion active social media users (31% penetration) with annual growth of 10% since 2015. An average number of hours spent using the internet/day range from 2.9 to 5.2 hours (access through laptop/desktop) and 0.6 to 3.9 hours (access through the mobile device). As far as Malaysia is concerned, the figures are 4.6 hours and 3.6 hours for access through laptop/desktop and mobile device, respectively.

Obviously, technology is changing the way we do things and remember things (e.g., facts). Addictive technology behaviours are evident, particularly for the millennial. If the data from Microsoft study are to be taken as a general phenomenon, it raises the red flag of the potentially harmful effect of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain. To me, it is no surprise that increased media consumption and digital lifestyles reduce the ability for consumers to focus for extended periods of time.

We can view the Internet as an incredibly huge repository of information and data. The amount of data generated in 60 seconds globally is mind-boggling indeed. Depending on how you look at it, this (amount of data flowing every second) can be a boon or a bane! What this intends to do is to promote a sort of compulsive behaviour in which we are constantly checking our smartphone, constantly glancing at our email (Inbox—It is like living in the perpetual state of distraction and interruption. In fact, some people say that social media are weapons of mass DISRUPTION!

Nicholas Carr, in his book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, asked this question: As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply? He expressed his concerned that ‘the Internet is making us more superficial as thinkers’.

According to the Microsoft report, here are the top factors that impact attention:
•Media consumption
•Social media usage
•Technology adoption rate
•Multi-screening behaviour

These factors affect different aspects of different types of attention, in different environments.

So how, why, and what does this mean for educators?

This means a more challenging task to maintain prolonged focus and engage students in the classroom. If the mode of delivery is still didactic and teacher-centred, students will easily disconnect and disengaged.

So, what can we do about it? How do teachers create an immersive learning environment for the 21st-century learners and the impending fourth industrial revolution?

My response: Get them busy! Engage their mind. The key is in the learning design and the thoughtful lesson plan that would empower students to unleash their CREATIVITY and promote a GROWTH MINDSET.

The key to engaging minds in the classroom is the role of teachers to creatively DESIGN meaningful and relevant learning activities that engage students to think, work together in a group to accomplish certain task, and get them to express their thought.

   “The best teachers aren’t those who teach you to think like them, but those who teach you to think without them” 
- Tariq Ramadan.

What is the role of technology in this context? Well, we can use the tools of technology to empower teachers to be creative and create various interactive learning activities that are fun and interesting and at the same time allowing the students to construct their knowledge and create their own meaning.

To learn how you can create interactive and engaging learning activities, have a look at my online course, Essential Digital Tools for Student Engagement on Udemy or Thinkific platforms.

Keywords: Active learning, student engagement, focus, concentration span, flipped classroom, creativity, learning style, learning activity