How could a distracted generation possibly learn anything?

If digital devices are harming children’s ability to focus, how could teachers adapt their teaching methods to give children the skills they need?

It’s clear that the students of today have a problem.

They’re so used to being on their smartphones and other digital devices that they can’t concentrate in the classroom – and it’s affecting every age group.

However, they are not the ones to blame.

Today’s children are born into a world where businesses have invested billions into keeping people scrolling, tapping, and swiping away, as we become slaves to our devices.

As children have a problem, this means teachers do too.

With attention spans shrinking, engagement levels reducing and reading levels plummeting, things need to change in our classrooms to keep up with the changing times.

But how exactly do teachers need to adapt their classroom to successfully get through to our ‘distracted generation’?


Eyes to the front!

Brain development in young children is a complex topic, but in recent years research has investigated the impact that smartphones and media multi-tasking has on concentration levels in young people.

A normal attention span is 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the child’s age. If you were to have a conversation with an experienced teacher, they would tell you the attention span of children is only getting worse.

Whilst mobiles have clearly had an effect on the developing brains of children, there’s a severe lack of training and investment that has gone into teaching to counteract these issues.

Fortunately, learning how to deal with the distracted generation has been introduced into Primary Education studies at Universities, but teachers that trained before the surge in technology are being left behind.

The effect of technology is most apparent in reading-based exercises, with the growth of visual social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok over text-based platforms such as Facebook and Twitter further minimising the use of text language in online communication.

Simply transporting text to be displayed on a digital medium doesn’t help the situation either, indicating that the problem runs deeper than students preferring to use a screen over pencil and paper.

The future of the classroom

Despite technology having an obvious negative impact on certain aspects of learning, education needs to change to meet the latest requirements of young people.


Teachers cannot control the fact that today’s distracted generation have been brought up using technology from a young age, so must therefore aim to change the way lessons are delivered to capture their pupils’ attention.

One way teachers are trying to adapt is by delivering lessons in smaller chunks. This involves teaching subjects in smaller lessons to counteract the decreased attention span of today’s young people.

Another way teachers have tried to adapt is by conducting mindfulness exercises at the start of lessons. These exercises can help children to concentrate ahead of a lesson, and improve their productivity levels and capability to absorb information.

Children use YouTube as a source of entertainment, however teachers are starting to utilise the platform as an educational tool in the classroom.

Because of the association young people have with YouTube and entertainment, children are more engaged during a lesson that contains a YouTube video, than one without using the platform.

This teaching technique aims to ‘meet children in the middle’ by using platforms they’re familiar with increase engagement in a lesson.

Both gamification and involvement have also been proven to increase engagement in young people, and there are platforms out there that help involve children in the learning process.

Discover 5 fantastic online teaching platforms to spice up your lessons in the new school year.

Mixing humans and technology

The most pragmatic approach for education appears to be to blend together both traditional human teaching methods and technology.

By doing this, both the advantages of using technology and human teachings are met, offering a mixed education and covering more bases.

One study suggests that whilst laptops are commonly found on the desks of people in higher education, a ‘pen and paper’ note-taking approach provokes greater learning and knowledge retention than when using a laptop.

classroom technology

Some studies have also challenged the theory of teaching lessons in chunks in order to make learning digestible, by suggesting that pupils need time learning about a particular subject in order to retain information.

Lessons can definitely be improved by championing digital media and technology, but the value that teachers bring to the classroom is still superior to technology on its own.

Technology must be therefore available to assist face-to-face education and empower teachers to provide engaging lessons to capture the attention of the distracted generation.

The danger of underestimating technology

It’s important for schools to understand and brush up on the advantages that technology can bring to their classroom, as well as being aware of the negative effects.

Whilst technology actively undermines some aspects of education, it also empowers students and influences the way they learn.

child using laptop and colouring

For example, some enthusiastic students turn to YouTube to find things out for themselves instead of waiting to ask the teacher.

This showcases what educating young people is all about, engaging them to want to ask questions and gain interest.

Times have now changed from a measure of success being about ‘how much you know’.

The ability to think creatively and differently carries greater value in the modern world than any amount of knowledge.

This is why teachers have no choice but to adapt to accepting the advantages technology brings to the classroom, and engage their students in new and fascinating ways to keep children asking questions.

To discover more about immersive learning for primary school children, check out Seymour & Lerhn.

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