Distracted Learning and Why You Should Put Down Your Phone

“Where does a giver go to get? Where does a filler go to be filled?” — Mac

Let that quote sit with you for a minute.  Does it resonate?  Most of you probably don’t know “Mac”, but if you ever have an opportunity to attend a PE Institute in Asheville, you will.  The quote above is one of many “Mac-isms” and one I actually didn’t hear at #PEInstitute16 this year.  However, the other night when I was camping on the Oregon Coast, I heard my friend Joey Feith say it and it was the push I needed to write this blog post.  If you have no idea how this is even relates to your cell phone yet, stay with me for a minute and let me explain.

Where does a filler go to be filled?

It was a long time coming, but I think I came to the realization about 6 months ago.  You see, I have been presenting sessions at conferences, facilitating the #PhysEdSummit, facilitating PD in my own district and trying to teach full time all at the same time.  It kind of snuck up on me one day when I asked myself the question, “When is the last time that I learned anything?”  This certainly was not a moment of self-righteousness, rather an admission that while spending all this time trying to give back to the profession and facilitate the learning needs of others, I had neglected my own learning.  It’s frightening to admit this, but it has forced me to be intentional about being a little bit more selfish with how I connect, consume and network.  It has forced me to consider sharing less so that I can grow more.

Counterintuitive? Maybe…but…

Where does a giver go to get?

Pokemon Go is absolutely addicting.  It’s fun and it’s challenging.  Consider it a bonus that it gets us outside and moving at the same time.  However, it is amusing to see groups of people walking around town, the airport, on campus, and the zoo with their heads buried in their phone trying to catch a pikachu or battle at a gym.  The person’s phone has captured their attention and focus completely.  While they are highly active within the game, they have become completely passive to the world that is around them.

The point is, with the push our #PhysEd profession has made to “get connected” we are starting to see unintended consequences.  Social media has evolved where it is truly instant (Periscope, Snapchat, Facebook live, etc.) and it is very enticing to live in the moment like this.  I see it at conferences now where many attendees are simply sharing what is happening during the session to a greater audience at the sacrifice of their own participation.  I have been equally as guilty of this.  Whether it be tweeting or periscoping, in our quest to share the latest and greatest with our PLN and the #PhysEd community, we don’t even realizing what is happening in real time.  We are giving…but, are we getting?  Sure, we can pick up on sound bytes from keynote speakers or feel the energy that exists in the space that we are in, but are we learning anything?  If I am honest with myself, I am not learning when I make the choice to give instead of get.  We can either share or we can learn.  I’m not buying the notion that we can do both at the same time.

How do adults learn best?  Not by passively attending a break out session at a conference and choosing to actively engage with social media instead.  This is distracted learning and ask yourself afterwards how much you remember from the session?  It would be like attending a session during the #PhysEdSummit and instead of participating in the Tozzl, I just used Periscope to stream my computer screen.  At the PE Institute this year, the keynotes were live streamed.  Despite this, I am certain that some people streamed the keynote via Periscope as well.  The question is, why?

I don’t mean to belabor the point, but next time we are faced with the question of sharing or learning, I think we should pause for a minute and consider it carefully.  Recently, I have become a huge fan of the Netflix series Stranger Things.  Mostly for the nostalgia of having been an 80’s kid, but there is something else about it.  The main characters do not have the technology that we possess today, so they are forced to actively engage, problem solve and learn in their world as they experience it, not just share what is happening around them with the rest of the world.  As educators, I encourage us to do the same with our professional learning.  Put down your phone for an hour and bring learning back.  Then, take a moment to share what you learned with the rest of us.

4 Comments on “Distracted Learning and Why You Should Put Down Your Phone

  1. Adam, so true! I had the same revelation this year. I’ve spent my career giving back. Due to a number of professional commitments, in the past 6 years, I found myself also concerned with other’s learning and putting mine on the back burner. I’m always learning, in bits and pieces, but I was never really settling down to “put the pieces together”. This summer, I made the commitment to be “all me” and it’s been hard. But in all, I am glad that I have been #playing it forward. Thanks for putting thoughts into action for all to read!

    • That is exactly it for me, Betsey. I would get bits and pieces, but never committed the time to put them together. Thanks for your comment, I had a feeling I wasn’t the only one who felt this way when I wrote it.

  2. Great thoughts Adam! This is something I struggle with, there’s definitely a balance somewhere and it’s a hard one to live perfectly.

    Another thing to think about is how we all learn differently – while some people can listen to a talk and process the info with no problem – others remember it better if they take notes either written or through photos or video.

    I think the important thing is to be aware of what you’re doing and make an intentional choice one way or the other.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for the comment Ben. You hit the nail on the head with how we all learn differently. One of my favorite moments of the PE institute was at David Gusitsch and Adam Metcalf’s session. They had a QR code on one of their slides for more resources and participants were able to freely walk up and scan it. I appreciated that flexibility for us as participants.

      You are right when it comes to sharing vs giving–let’s be intentional about that choice and what it means. I’ve got nothing against a live periscope, just let’s be conscious about why we are doing that and what it means for us when we do.

      I didn’t write about this in the post, but as social media evolves into much more of an “instant sharing” mentality, I think it might be helpful to keep etiquette in mind as well. It may not seem like a big deal, but I think it would be a professional thing to do to ask the presenter if it’s ok to live stream their session. Sometimes we just assume it is ok to do because the technology allows us to.

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