As a learner whether you're sitting an exam, reading material or studying online do you ever find yourself drifting off? When taking an online course have you wandered to another site, or found yourself thinking about something else?
So, what should you be doing to learn most effectively?
1. Know where your attention is
This means switching off auto-pilot. Research has found that what we pay attention to and repeatedly practice gets hardwired into our brain and has a phenomenal effect on the learning process. On the other hand, when we are not paying attention we are in ‘default mode’ and running on auto-pilot. It's fair to say that a lot of time, we do not realise where our attention is but perhaps more importantly, we do not notice when we're distracted. This is when our mind wanders and we stop taking in our learning. Why not set yourself some activities to see how you can apply your learning as you work your way through, to make sure you have been paying attention?
2. Prioritise where your attention needs to be
When you're on your computer reading an article or working, how much of your focus is on your task? When reading an exam paper or doing an online activity, that is the most important thing there at that time and that is where your focus should lie.
A relatable example would be a person who is driving and listening to the radio. Your priority at that moment should be the road. Although it may switch to the radio for a second, it needs to come back the road. So, when you’re working through a course that should be the priority and where your attention is. If you find yourself drifting, bring the focus back and train your mind to do so.
3. Go and stay where your attention is
Identifying where your attention should be is straightforward. But keeping your attention focused on a particular task is difficult.
Have you ever been studying or focusing and heard a noise that you just can’t seem to ignore? This is called distractor influence. The more you try to ignore it the more your attention goes to it… But you should be more interested in one thing than the other. You should have goals behind your learning – why are you completing this course and how will you apply it in the future? Make sure the courses you complete are relevant to you and think about your long-term goals to help you focus. When your attention wanders, as it inevitably will – gently go back to the main priority. If this is practised, over time it will become easier to do for longer periods of time.
Remember that inattention comes at a cost! Amongst others it can lead to wasting time, not understanding things and poor memory.
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