What does the science of attention mean for e-learning?

What does the science of attention mean for e-learning? In the fourth and final part of his review of Learning Solutions Conference 2014, Peter Phillips reflects on two inspirational key note speakers with a common theme.. Theme 4 Innovative Thinking Soren Kaplan, “Leapfrogging to innovation”, and Cathy Davidson “the Science of Attention”, bookended the Conference with great keynotes, very different but with notable common messages. Both referred to the well-known phenomenon of focus. Soren used a magician clip and Cathy Davidson a variation on the famous invisible gorilla to illustrate how powerfully the brain is able to focus, and in the process to miss the obvious. Here’s a Youtube version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGQmdoK_ZfY Soren related this to the all too common business problem of focusing so much on what we do and trying to do it better, that we ignore the opportunities from the changing world around us. A missed opportunity is often a threat of course, as Eastman Kodak, Borders and Blackberry illustrate - all examples of great companies with great products who failed to respond to the threat of a fast changing world. Changes in E-learning are emerging at extraordinary pace. How many of us are also too focused on just doing what we do now better? A challenging question, very relevant for example to the “Serious eLearning Manifesto”, but I’ll leave that discussion to another time. Soren focused on the need for innovative thinking in business, including the importance of challenging the status quo (e.g. does a power tool business make drills or create holes?), falling in love with problems not solutions and “embracing stupidity”. Cathy’s talk was more about how we as individuals, and our kids, think and learn. She gave some great insights (“think, pair, share” is coming to Unicorn!) and a powerful challenge to the tradition of rote learning, particularly in a connected world. She challenged the idea that in a Google world our kids know less (because they can look it up), or that they have a shorter attention span. They just know different things, including how to find information quickly, and they channel their powers of concentration differently. The new connected world doesn’t inhibit learning, instead it opens up the opportunity to learn far more about the things that truly interest you. This creates new challenges for traditional teaching. The Nobel prize-winning work of Daniel Kahnemann was referenced by both speakers (and by Clark Quinn in another session I attended). If you haven’t read “Thinking Fast and Slow” then you really must. No, really you must. The quality of the keynote speakers always provides a highlight at Guild Conferences and this year was no exception. They provided a great counterpoint to the immersive focus of the rest of the week, and remind us to lift our eyes to the horizon and force our brains free from that enchanting trap of attention, so that we see the gorillas amongst us. 2014-03-21 15.20.03

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