The Multitasking Generation Essay

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It's 9:30 p.m., and Stephen and Georgina Cox know exactly where their children are. Well, their bodies, at least. Piers, 14, is holed up in his bedroom--eyes fixed on his computer screen--where he has been logged onto a MySpace chat room and AOL Instant Messenger (IM) for the past three hours. His twin sister Bronte is planted in the living room, having commandeered her dad's iMac--as usual. She, too, is busily IMing, while chatting on her cell phone and chipping away at homework.

By all standard space-time calculations, the four members of the family occupy the same three-bedroom home in Van Nuys, Calif., but psychologically each exists in his or her own little universe. Georgina, 51, who works for a display-cabinet maker, is tidying up the living room as Bronte works, not that her daughter notices. Stephen, 49, who juggles jobs as a squash coach, fitness trainer, event planner and head of a cancer charity he founded, has wolfed down his dinner alone in the kitchen, having missed supper with the kids. He, too, typically spends the evening on his cell phone and returning e-mails--when he can nudge Bronte off the computer. "One gets obsessed with one's gadgets," he concedes.

Zooming in on Piers' screen gives a pretty good indication of what's on his hyperkinetic mind. O.K., there's a Google Images window open, where he's chasing down pictures of Keira Knightley. Good ones get added to a snazzy Windows Media Player slide show that serves as his personal e-shrine to the actress. Several IM windows are also open, revealing such penetrating conversations as this one with a MySpace pal:

MySpacer: suuuuuup!!! (Translation: What's up?)

Piers: wat up dude

MySpacer: nmu (Not much. You?)

Piers: same

Naturally, iTunes is open, and Piers is blasting a mix of Queen, AC/DC, classic rock and hip-hop. Somewhere on the screen there's a Word file, in which Piers is writing an essay for English class. "I usually finish my homework at school," he explains to a visitor, "but if not, I pop a book open on my lap in my room, and while the computer is loading, I'll do a problem or write a sentence. Then, while mail is loading, I do more. I get it done a little bit at a time."

Bronte has the same strategy. "You just multitask," she explains. "My parents always tell me I can't do homework while listening to music, but they don't understand that it helps me concentrate." The twins also multitask when hanging with friends, which has its own etiquette. "When I talk to my best friend Eloy," says Piers, "he'll have one earpiece [of his iPod] in and one out." Says Bronte: "If a friend thinks she's not getting my full attention, I just make it very clear that she is, even though I'm also listening to music."

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Technology is shaping modern learning at a pace that’s only for the better.

Till a decade ago, who knew we would be using mobile phones and iPads to acquire knowledge on-the-go? Or the fact that our minds wander so much that smart and quick ways to learn would instantly appeal to us?

Whether we talk about people at work or students surviving yet another year at school or college, both clusters of “learners” now communicate in rather different modes as a result of technology.

First of all, there is a rise in collaborative learning.

Learners, not only from across continents, can find others who share similar interests but also collaborate with them as and when their course advances. Technology has made communication transparent and it doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you are. All that matters is the willingness to learn and become better.

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Secondly, the art of multitasking has suddenly caught everyone’s attention even though it just makes us less efficient in whatever task we pick up. We might be reading a piece of news on our phones while talking to someone, or solving a skill assessment quiz on an app while listening to music and also Whatsapping a colleague or a friend at the same time.

Seriously, there is no limit to multitasking because we always feel like we are running low on time. The shortage of time and the willingness to multi task, has changed the way we choose to learn new things today.

But that is not a bad thing, so to speak, because any which way, we still have the willingness to learn. All we need in this time and age is shorter, snackable content that can be leveraged against technology to favour our tendency to multitask!

The change has begun.

Learning at point of need

Yes, this is a multi-situational experience for the modern learner who gives content merely 8 seconds to decide if it has his/her attention, checks his or her smartphone 9 times every hour and uses more than 2 electronic devices on a daily basis!

This means the modern learner is easily distracted, multitasks and gets fidgety every time he or she feels the need to acquire information on the mobile phone or any other gadget. Irrespective of where the person is – home, school, college or the office, the learning has become scattered.

We consume what’s quick and easy to learn, and get distracted from what actually might be giving us more insights into what we’re interested in.

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Keeping this changing behaviour in mind, let us take a look at the 3 learning tech trends that have piqued the interest of Gen X and Gen Y (including you and me):

1. Microlearning

It is the concept of delivering nuggets of information to learners over a period of time for fast consumption and understanding. Microlearning involves but is not limited to information being shared via how-to-videos, presentations, quick quizzes and films to name a few.

The technique of micro learning has been particularly helpful in organizations during the onboarding and training programs for new hires who are bombarded with information spanning from roles to responsibilities, HR policies and details of the company’s mission and vision. The technique has proven to keep the person engaged just long enough for him to consume what’s important.

2. Gamification

According to Gabe Zichermann, this is the process of using game-thinking and game dynamics to engage audiences and solve problems. It is a trend that has been largely accepted at workplaces and schools to take advantage of the natural competitive behaviour of people, to keep them engaged.

A 2012 study by Alberto Posso, a professor at Australia’s RMIT University, revealed that those who spend time playing video games online are often able to improve their academic grades. Similarly, many companies are now coming up with weekly games to instill a true sense of camaraderie and competitiveness amongst professionals to become better at what they do.

For instance, the national leader at Deloitte Digital Australia Frank Farrall believes that games are a proven technique to drive and reward specific behaviours at work to not only keep the employees engaged, but also motivated and happy by breaking the monotonous routines.

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3. Social learning

Twitter is the first social media platform to reflect the latest happenings across the globe. Whether the tweets are on a national tragedy or offer a minute-by-minute account of a very historical debate (Hint: Trump vs. Clinton) – social media in general delivers information in short bursts, quickly.

The generation of millennials has grown up using social media. Exchanging ideas or finding answers to their queries from industry experts they may not know otherwise, has become possible. And this is the point where they need to be engaged.

If this kind of interaction is mixed with a quick video and a handful of tweets full of figures, what we have in our hands is a quick burst of content which is complete and full in itself, and is being consumed in totality by those who are busy.  Something that you can’t expect from a multi-page manual today.

Micro learning, macro outcomes

Oust App is based on the concept of gamification and microlearning to promote healthy competition between people, and engage them longer to learn more. Delivering informative content in short bursts and an interactive manner, the app is aimed at helping schools, colleges and corporates leverage micro learning for macro outcomes.

Because if consumable is what people want and need, that’s exactly how you should engage or interact with them.

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