The dreaded ding of an incoming email. The chime that reminds you of your next meeting. The infamous “knock brush” notification from your favorite messaging platform. We all get these audible alerts at work (and some of us have anxiety about them). So, what are these distractions doing to your at-work learning? According to researchers from Tsinghua University in Beijing, discrete auditory distractions (like my “favorites” mentioned above) have the potential to slow your learning and require more effort to stay focused.
In fact, this specific type of distraction was the most disruptive for learners, compared to visual distractions (like pop-up notifications) or tactile ones (like a vibrating phone). The researchers concluded that “learning environment[s] should be kept as quiet as possible,” and even stated that learners should be discouraged from listening to “continuous auditory distractions,” like background music, when reading (Rau, Zheng, & Wei, 2020). Is this consistent with your experiences? Does listening to music improve your concentration?
Based on this study, you’d be better off muting notifications when engaging in intentional learning, reading, or other activity that requires focus. (And, you may consider giving the same advice to your learners.)
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Rau, P.L.P., Zheng, J., & Wei, Y. (2020). Distractive effect of multimodal information in multisensory learning. Computers & Education, 144.
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