The importance of paying attention

From the Crowther Centre

In my eNews article earlier this year, I discussed how we’re bringing our three key academic principles into practice through a new initiative, the Effective Learner Program.

Simply put, we’re helping our students to become more effective learners.

In this article, I explain the focus for the current term and the model of memory we will use as the basis for the other terms this year in the Effective Learner Program.

The simple model memory is a model of human cognition used in the science of learning and that we use to inform our practice. One depiction of that model is shown below.

Reference: Willingham (2012), “Why Don’t Students Like School”

As you can see in the diagram above, attention plays a key role in learning; you can’t learn something that you’re not attending to as it can’t make its way into the working memory and then to long-term memory. This is why this term’s focus for the Effective Learner Program is ‘attention’.

To facilitate students improving their ability to pay attention, we designed a series of activities where students practise paying attention; starting with tasks that are easier to stay focused on, like puzzles, and then moving to more academically focused tasks, like writing a summary.

This was based on other research (e.g. ) that has shown that intentionally practising focusing your attention can improve the ability to pay attention is other contexts.

Additionally, the current society norms around technology use mean that a lack of focus is impacting students more than it has historically (you can read more about distraction and focus ).

As such, we are also teaching students techniques for minimising the impact of technology on their ability to focus during times when they are looking to study. They get opportunities to practice this in a supervised setting.

As we progress through the year, the foci of the Effective Learner Program will continue to leverage the simple model of memory and its applications to help student better retain things that they have learned.


Patrick Sanders
Associate Head of the Crowther Centre, Curriculum and Assessment

Brought to you by The Crowther Centre