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Designing for distraction

Posted on: February 16, 2011

What’s wrong with distraction? Why not take advantage of it?

Those are my reactions whenever I read articles about how slate devices might be a distraction in class. The latest is a glowing review of the iPad for higher education. The issue of distraction was described as such:

In a surprising twist, the iPad’s notoriously cumbersome application switching was too slow for recreational web surfing during class, but still quick enough for Internet research, leaving students more attentive than with a laptop. However, as devices become more sophisticated, this vacation from the distracted classroom will likely be short lived.

So the better performing the device, the more likely the distraction?

I think that students are going to get distracted no matter what. They daydream, look out the window, pass notes or sneak an SMS. They are human after all.

I am of the opinion that if you cannot hold and maintain their attention, they deserve to be distracted. I tell my classes that they can go on Facebook or email or Twitter or IM if what we are doing in class is not meaningful. That is a challenge to me to be on my A game!

I also think that the distraction might be an informal opportunity for learning since the student is pursuing something of his or her interest. In fact, I think that my learners are NOT distracted enough.

My learners are typically older ones: Student teachers, inservice teachers and graduate students. The only similarity they have with school students is the silence you get after asking a question. But ask them to respond online and the joyful “noise” typically goes up! Injecting variety and varying the pace are just some ways to design for “distraction”.

Most of my learners need to know how their learners operate. So I often tell mine to search online whenever we reach in impasse. Never heard of connectivism? Search. Not sure what crowdsourcing means? Search. Don’t know what gamification is? Search.

Then we share, critique and write about the concepts over time. It’s a distraction that lasts the whole semester and it is a joy to watch when different people get their a-ha moments at different times.

Two articles worth poring over

2 Responses to "Designing for distraction"

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ashley Tan, Daniel Taylor. Daniel Taylor said: Designing for distraction […]


This article from the WSJ on distraction and creativity came out after I reflected on designing for distraction. It’s a good resource!


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