A while back, I wrote an article for the eLearning Guild which was essentially about measuring social media as a learning tool. We called social media "Learning 2.0" but the issue is the same. Here is the article.

I'm reprising that here, because I just read Ettiene Wenger's (2011) article where he talks about measuring social media, and I am once again disappointed that opportunity costs and costs of bad-information are not recognized.

This is intriguing. Thought you might be interested in this sort-of-browsing, sort-of-data-searching technique.

If you're a knowledge worker, your productivity depends on your ability to give attention to your tasks. Unfortunately, the human cognitive system is designed to be wary of environmental events so it devotes some of its ongoing processing to scanning the environment. Thought interruptions naturally occur, lowering our productivity–including our output, creativity, effectiveness, and completeness.

If you've got your own office and your own door, you may be able to control outside distractions. But for many of us, we've got noisy creatures near us–our colleagues–requiring us to devote cognitive capacity to their trivial activities.

Fortunately, there are solutions. I just found a great one-two combination that is really working for me–for those times when I really need full-frontal attention.

  1. Noise-Canceling Headset.
  2. White Noise (see for example www.SimplyNoise.com)

I have a Audio-Technica Headset and I just discovered www.SimplyNoise.com, which allows me to hear white noise, pink noise, and red/brown noise–and I can even have it oscillate.

Thoughts on Noise

White noise (or pink, red/brown noise) is great for when I really need to concentrate. I do a lot of writing and so hearing words–like song lyrics–is really disruptive. I have found a great grouping of African musicians on Last.FM, and that will often work great because most of the words are not in English so the lyrics don't disrupt. Other people like Pandora for music, but their "instrumental" section doesn't work for me. Somebody needs to come up with a way to filter out songs with English words.

Noise-Canceling Headsets

If you haven't used noise-canceling headsets, here are some things you should know (before you buy):

  1. They do NOT block out all ambient noise, but they blunt its ability to disrupt your thoughts.
  2. They block much, much more ambient noise when you are listening to music or white noise. In fact, without adding noise inside the earpieces you may not think the noise-cancellation technology is doing enough.
  3. If you are buying these specifically for airplane travel, know that you are generally NOT allowed to wear them on takeoffs and landings (when the noise is at its height).

I don't really know whether one brand of noise-cancellation headsets is better than another. For example, it's not clear if Bose is worth the extra money.

I do think an investment in noise-canceling headsets will pay itself back in productivity. On the other hand, your spouse may get really annoyed…


If you want to be like me, here is a link to the updated version of my headsets:

It was November 2008 when I started using Twitter. About 120 days of Twittering. Hmmm.

Feels like years.

I've sent 233 tweets (about 2 a day). I have 256 followers. I follow 66.

I first blogged about Twitter on November 14 2008. See my first thoughts on Twitter.

Here is a mosaic of my followers:

You can get your own twitter mosaic here.

My twitter experiment continues.

It's some good, some bad.

One key is to develop strategies not to be too distracted.

I've certainly learned about some cool stuff I wouldn't otherwise know about.

What I don't know — and can't know — is what I've lost while I'm Twittering or following the paths that start on Twitter.

If you haven't Twittered, I recommend giving it a try for 2 or 3 months.

  1. Get a twitter account.
  2. Enable everyone to read your tweets (otherwise you look like a paranoid).
  3. Look to see what others are writing (me for example at WillWorkLearn)
  4. DON'T follow too many people yet (less than 5).
    Why? b/c following begets followers, and you will want a community (later).
  5. Create some tweets each day.
  6. Try to provide (a) some value (links to good info) and (b) some insight into your true self.
  7. AFTER, you've done the above for a week or so, begin following others.
  8. See what happens.
  9. The <5 folks you originally followed (who aren't yet your followers), send them an @ message to let them know you exist…so that they may join your community (and become a follower).
  10. Build some strategies to avoid too much time loss.
  11. See what happens.

Generation Y, millennials, iPod Generation, better at multitasking then their elders. Yadda yadda yadda.

You've heard it all before, but is it true?

No. Probably not.

Read this great article in the Monitor on Psychology by Rebecca A. Clay.

It says:

  1. People in general are not good at multitasking.
  2. Young people are no better than their elders at multitasking.
  3. Multitasking actually takes longer. It is NOT a time saver.
  4. Learning done while multitasking is shallower learning, leading not to deep understanding (and flexible mental models) but only to an ability to regurgitate rote information.

Although I recommend the article, I do worry that some of its conclusions are drawn from too small a research base and may encompass a slight bias against the new media revolution. Still, I think we need to read these warnings because too many in our field don't see any downside to the new technologies.

Google has a nice blog post out on its use of eye movement research.

I remember getting a tour of Fidelity a few years ago and learning that their eye movement studies on web browsing showed that people were beginning to ignore big dark chunks of graphics because they thought they were advertisements.

My dissertation advisor, Ernie Rothkopf did a classic study (with Billington) in 1979 using eye movement data to test whether learners actually paid more attention (had more and higher-quality eye movements) toward information in the learning material that was targeted by learning objectives than to information that was not so targeted. It turned out that learning objectives worked to boost learning because they prompted learners to pay more attention to the objective-relevant material and less attention to the rest of the information.

See: Rothkopf, E. Z., & Billington, M. J. (1979). Goal-guided learning from text: Inferring a descriptive processing model from inspection times and eye movements. Journal of Educational Psychology, 71, 310-327.

To answer the question I posed above. Yes, more of us should be using eye-movement research to support us as we do e-learning design.

And by the way, as web pages change their strategies to gain our attention, our learners may change their strategies to avoid things deemed irrelevant. Moreover, as our learners see more and more of our company’s e-learning, their eyes may learn where to go…In fact, a lot of them already have a well-learned capacity to find the NEXT key through a swarm of bees.

Skype 4.0 is here and it's worth getting. So says David Pogue: http://tinyurl.com/d45o6w.

If you don't know what Skype is, try it. It's FREE. It will let you connect with people over the internet in visual phone calls. Don't forget to dress.

Training Media Review, a hearteningly unbiased source, just releases its 2009 report on Learning Management Systems.

Click to learn more…