As a learner whether you're sitting an exam, reading material or taking an online course do you ever find yourself drifting off? When taking an online course have you wandered to another site, or found yourself thinking about something else?

This blog post is based on a book by Dr Craig Hassed & Dr Richard Chambers called "Mindful Learning". Together they provide an insight into the process of effective learning. They dedicate a chapter to paying attention, going through how a learner should:

  • Know where their attention is.
  • Prioritise where the attention needs to be.
  • Go and stay where the attention is. 
The science of it

Hassed and Chambers go through the science of learning starting with the most important finding in the past twenty years: The understanding of how the brain changes its response to what it experiences. With research showing that what we pay attention to and repeatedly practice gets hardwired into the brain, it's no surprise that this has phenomenal effects on the learning process.

The concept of 'default mode' is one most of us are familiar with. Whether that's driving to work or picking the kids up from school. Hassed and Chambers explain that when we're not paying attention we are in fact in default mode. In this auto-pilot mode, your mind wanders and that's when your mind is judging, criticising and not really paying attention, when you think you are. 

So where is our attention?

William James recognised the importance of being able to focus your attention as the ultimate education. Yet, it's still surprising how often we are not aware of where our attention is. When you're on your computer reading an article or working, how much of your focus is on your task?

It's fair to say that a lot of time, we do not realise where our attention is but perhaps more importantly we do not notice when we're distracted. 

Do you prioritise your attention?

When reading an exam paper or doing an online activity, that is the most important thing there at that time and that is where your focus should lie. Hassed and Chambers explain that when engaging in any activity there is a central focus for the attention. A relatable example would be a person is driving and listening to the radio. Your priority at that moment should be the road. Although it may switch to something else for a second, it needs to come back the road. So when youíre working through an online course that should be the priority and where your attention is. If you find yourself drifting, bring the focus back and train your mind to do so. 

How do you follow your attention and stay there?

Identifying where your attention should be is straightforward. But keeping your attention focused on a particular task is difficult.

Have you ever been studying or focusing and heard a noise that you just canít seem to ignore? This is called distractor influence. The more you try to ignore it the more your attention goes to it.

Hassed and Chambers state that in this case you should 'be more interested in one thing than the other. When your attention wanders, as it inevitably will Ė gently go back to the main priority.' If this is practised, over time it will become easier to do.

Finally, inattention comes at a cost. Amongst others it can lead to wasting time, not understanding things and poor memory. 

Nelson Croom

Our Nelson Croom courses are diverse in their topics and use various methods to help you learn. We believe that one way of keeping your attention is to make you do something and engage, rather than passively watching, like so much e-learning. When you are engaged in an activity it is more difficult for your attention to wander or for you to become distracted. Clearly we wonít achieve 100% concentration so make sure, on the rare occasions when your attention does wander, you know what the main priority is, and bring your attention gently back to it.