How do you Learn?

“Networked and programmable media are part of a rapidly developing mediascape transforming how citizens of developed countries do business, conduct their social lives, communicate with one another, and – perhaps most significant – think.”

“Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes”
by N. Katherine Hayles

Advancement in technology allow people to connect with others globally and access information in an instant. Today, we are used to typing “cheap fast recipe” then being bombarded with lists of answers, compared to twenty years ago when we would ask, “Grandma, could you teach me how to make that awesome soup, please?” then hoping you’re worthy of a positive response. (I don’t care about recipes but point is:) We are used to the convenience of receiving answers spontaneously.

“Time is money.” Nowadays, it also means that the more time-saved a business can sell, the more money the business will make. I love 2-in-1 washer and dryer machines, non-stick pans that wash easily, wedge sneakers that make me look sporty and taller simultaneously. We want more things done faster and simpler.

Increasing efficiency of actions also increases the efficiency our brains process information. By 2015, 100 million people watch six-second vine videos every month! (quoted by head of user experience, Jason Mante) The increase of processing speeds leads to a shift in cognitive modes: from deep attention to hyper attention; from being engrossed with a single source to rapidly alternating focus on multiple tasks.

With the continuous advancement of technology, today’s generation of kids are less patient, more competitive and work for quick rewards, compared to people (maybe) fifty years ago who may be slower but more patient and strive for long-term goals. (Simply put, we have more brats today.)

However, Hayles did not write to judge these brats. On the contrary, Hayles thinks those with deep attention are the ones with “relative luxury” who are in “a secure environment in which one does not have to be constantly alert to danger.” (Not like the cavemen always on their feet… seems like we’ve come full circle, haven’t we?)

She explains how both types of cognitive modes have advantages and disadvantages, and how the modern education systems can adapt to maximise students’ learning. “Deep attention is superb for solving complex problems represented in a single medium, but it comes at the price of environmental alertness and flexibility in response. Hyper attention excels at negotiating rapidly changing environments in which multiple foci compete for attention; its disadvantage is impatience with focusing for long periods on a non interactive object…”

I realise most of my friends and I learn through both cognitive styles. To enjoy a book or understand an essay, I pay deep attention while reading word for word and allowing my imagination to come alive. However, boredom attacks and I may need to take short breaks to work on a different task before completing the primary activity. The breaks also give opportunities to reflect, gather inspiration before jumping back into the main problem.

Different modes of processing information and learning environments are analysed because ultimately, we aim to be efficient and productive; to do more in a shorter time. I believe, students and teachers should strive to create a balance. We should practise being patient and focused yet adaptable to changing circumstances.

In a university setting, everyone has different schedules and may not physically be within school compound all day. By understanding how we learn and when we pay deep or hyper attention, we make the most of our moments by planning when to do what. Do not judge, instead, understand the way you work.

The most important key to completing a task is time management, then commit to doing one thing at a time.

So, how do you learn?