16 Sep

First watch this video all the way through:

What did you miss? What are you missing?

Our minds can not multi-task. Not really. We just move quickly between tasks and studies show that in the end it makes us less productive and may actually be permanently damaging our brains. We are not outfitted with dual core CPU’s. So, in this age of distraction, how do we keep students focused on a learning activity? Especially one that is presented to them online: one click away from a billion distracting possibilities. Distractions that take the form of e-mails, or cat videos or Facebook notifications.

The book Minds Online asks this same question and responds with an important principle as we design online courses and activities: “We encode very little information in the absence of focused attention, so capturing and holding attention is critical”
(Miller, 2014, p.199). Miller goes on to give some tools and techniques that could help guide designing online activities to increase student attention:

  • Lessons that alternate text with student responses, such as quiz questions or reflection on the reading
  • Interactive branching lessons or “choose-your-won-adventure” style lessons that change as a function of student choice
  • Synchronous chat
  • Dynamic multimedia such as animation or narrated diagrams
  • Working with technical staff to maximize speed and stability of instructional technology
  • Instructional modules or demonstrations that teach students about the dangers of “multitasking” (like the video above)

What will you do to design your activities and guide your students to increase focused attention? If you were able to make it this far into this blog post without going elsewhere, ask yourself: why?


Miller, M. D. (2014). Minds online : teaching effectively with technology: Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press.

Jason Johnston