One of the primary concerns about the impact of technology on young people’s lives is the negative effect on their attention span: smartphones and tablets seem to have raised a generation of students who are impatient and unfocused, who want everything to happen quickly and easily and lack the patience and self-discipline to concentrate on long or complex tasks without distraction.
But what if technology could have the opposite effect? Let’s have a look at some of the ways technology can, in fact, improve, not disrupt the students’ ability to pay attention.
1. Using technology responsibly
The debate on the widespread use of technology by young people remains a hot one because both sides have a point: while detractors may not realise the advantages that technology offers to education, it is undeniable that spending every free moment in front of a screen and being exposed to too much screen time too early in life are both factors that can negatively affect a person’s attention span. Thus, enforcing reasonable limits to screen time, especially for young children, is a first and necessary step to ensuring they can pay attention in class for extended periods of time.
2. Keeping your brain in check
Technology does not have to be a distraction: there are plenty of devices which can help you focus by acting directly on your brain or your surroundings, by cancelling distracting noise with a pair of specially designed headphones, keeping track of your cognitive activity, charting the times of the day when your focus is at its lowest and at its highest, warning you when you are getting distracted, or even stimulating your brain with harmless electrodes when it needs it the most.
3. Mens sana in corpore sano
While technology is certainly a determining factor for our attention spans, it is far from the only one: a healthier lifestyle improves performance across the board, including how long we can pay attention. Proper nutrition, a set routine and exercise all promote mental health as well as physical health and make our lives less hectic and more conducive to concentration—and they are all aspects that technology can improve and support, even just through the use of scheduling and fitness apps.
4. Brain training
Speaking of fitness, our brain needs exercise just as much as our muscles do, and technology can once again be an ideal brain trainer. A brain that is regularly challenged and not allowed to grow lazy will perform better in all kinds of cognitive tasks related to memory, concentration and other basic functions, and there are plenty of apps available that offer vast collections of puzzles and other brain training activities in the form of games to keep your brain engaged, boost its capabilities, and reap the advantages of your daily training at school or at work.
5. Finding your learning style
Learning through play – the so-called Game-Based Learning – is just one of the many ways a teacher can capture the wandering attention of a distracted class: it is only natural that students, especially younger pupils, will focus longer and better if they are learning through a fun and rewarding game rather than a long, dry lecture. Educational apps can make lessons fun and less taxing for the brain, but they are only a fraction of the ways technology can reshape learning and make it easier for everyone to concentrate.
Sometimes, students will have trouble focusing because the current lesson is ill-suited to their personal learning styles: some people naturally learn better by seeing, others by listening, others still by performing hands-on activities, and technology can provide teachers with resources that suit all three.
On other occasions, it is the content, rather than the style that presents a problem: in almost every class setting, there will be those who find the material too difficult because they have failed to understand the underlying concepts that came before it, and those who are simply bored with the lecture because they are more advanced, and both of these extremes will have trouble concentrating, even if for opposite reasons. Using technology to personalise the curriculum as much as possible guarantees an adequate challenge level for each student that promotes engagement and cuts down on distraction.