Monday, January 15, 2018

Poll results: Which books come next?

Last week I asked people on Twitter to help me decide which book to write next by answering a simple poll question. (And many of you retweeted... thank you!) I posted a question listing six books. Respondents could select any or all of the books. Here are the results:
Survey question and results
I received 39 completed responses. And that leads to my dilemma: Should I write the learnable eLearning book next? The results suggest that this is a good idea. But in survey analysis terms, these results are not necessarily significant. When doing surveys for decision making, you want to know that your data is "representative" and not chance. Representative means that it accurately represents the answers of the entire group. My "entire group" is everyone who reads or will read my books.

There are many reasons why this information may NOT be representative (biased).

  • There aren't a lot of responses and data from fewer people is less likely to be representative than responses from a lot of people
  • I only asked people on Twitter and my extended audience is unlikely to all be on Twitter
  • People who didn't answer may have different opinions from people who did answer

So what should I do? The truth is, I'm not sure. I wrote the first two books, Write and Organize for Deeper Learning and Practice and Feedback for Deeper Learning based on what I thought were needed. And they are doing well!

Am leaning towards starting on the learnable eLearning book next because I know this information will be super helpful. For example, what does research specifically tell us to do differently when writing for mobile? I spent time finding the applicable research on this topic during the recent holiday break. And the research is fascinating and actionable.

Writing a book, especially one based solely on research, is a heavy undertaking. That's because it takes a lot of time to search for widely applicable (generalizable, in research terms) research. This is made even more difficult when searching for training research rather than the more widely available learning research ( which is typically K-12 and higher education).

If you have advice, please let me know. I hope to have the next book ready by May.  If you are one of my readers, THANK YOU. I absolutely love doing this.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The delusion of attention

In the AT&T commercial above, a man asks a group of children, "What's better, doing two things at once or just one?" All the children yell, "Two!" The commercial ends with "It's not complicated. Doing two things at once is better."

Except AT&T is wrong. It might seem better. But our cognitive abilities are not built to allow us to do two things at once. Hell, we often have a hard time doing one thing. (Or is this just me?)

I just finished reading A Deadly Wandering, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Matt Richtel. I wanted to know more about how technology impacts attention because attention is critical for learning. Since we regularly use technology for workplace learning, does technology positively or negatively impact our ability to attend? Most people in our field seem to assume that technology is good for learning. Here's my take: Assume nothing. Follow the evidence.

A Deadly Wandering, by Matt Richtel

In the book, we follow Reggie's story along with how neuroscience experts see his story. Reggie Shaw makes a tragic mistake and accidentally kills two men while texting and driving. The story follows the accident, Reggie's prosecution, and what we can learn as a result of his horrific mistake.

It also follows what science knows and is learning about attention and technology. Richtel offers insights throughout the book from Adam Gazzaley, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Neurology, Physiology, and Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. And from David Strayer, PhD., University of Utah.

Earlier attention scientists found that neural conduction (how the brain and nervous system transmit signals and commands) is much slower than expected. Mental processing is not instantaneous. As we increase demands on mental processing (too much to look at, process, think through, make sense of), we "lose the thread" and make mistakes. Add in technology and demands on mental processing can increase a lot, sometimes exponentially.

For example, when we take our attention away from driving for a second or two (for example, to see where something dropped on the floor or to talk to someone in the car), it takes many seconds to regain full focus and understanding of what we are seeing and doing. Texting and driving don't only impact processing of the road while looking at the phone (which is terrible enough). It affects the ability to process what is happening around us for many seconds after looking at the phone. It's like no one is driving for those seconds because thinking is elsewhere engaged.

My insight: Anything that diverts attention while learning (music, interruptions, bells and whistles, going elsewhere to get a question answered) makes it MUCH harder to return to full focus.

People simply cannot learn or perform well under these conditions. Reggie's accident was a prime example. Anything else we try to do while driving, diminishes our ability to perform. Anything else we have to deal with while learning diminishes our ability to learn.

The bottom line here is that attention can be a delusion because our processing capabilities are quite limited. We easily fool ourselves into thinking we can do more than one thing at a time. But focus and attention are fragile and we are easily distracted. And while distracted, our processing capabilities are elsewhere.

Richter explains that the distractibility of the technologies in our lives and work have increased a great deal and continue to increase. To keep up we feel we must multi-task. But this is not how our minds work. We cannot change how we process and the speed of processing so we must change what we do to accommodate what is so.

In this section of the book, I want answers to the following questions.
  • How can we keep technology from capturing attention away from learning?
  • How do we learn while facing an onslaught of distraction information and demands?
Feel free to offer your insights and answers. I'll be back soon with more insights from A Deadly Wandering.  

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