How does poor attention actually affect the learning process?

One pound of learning requires ten pounds of common sense to apply it.
-Persion Proverb

If we take a cognitive view, from a purely external viewpoint, we can examine how we learn. Learning involves the teacher, the learner, the learning process, and the cognitive and behavioral changes associated with learning.

Flow Diagram


The teaching method is the series of actions that the teacher uses to present the lesson. The teacher could be a computer, but is ordinarily a human who includes both content and organization of teaching materials. The teaching method encompasses both how and what is learned, the teacher’s attributes (mood, knowledge base, etc.), and the learning environment. Examples may include use of preparatory sets, computerized instruction, repeating instructions, or providing an example, etc.

The learner’s attributes include the learner’s entire schema: all existing knowledge, metacognitive skills, disabilities, and memory capabilities. Picture this as everything the learner brings to class.

The learning process demands that the student pay as much attention to the teaching method as possible in order to assimilate the data provided. If this occurs, then cognitive processing of the data can occur which leads to integration and organization with prior information in the learner’s schema. A person with an diffused attention receives bit and pieces of the lesson information. This typically results in the transfer of bits and pieces of information being transferred to long term memory.

Cognitive outcomes are actual changes in the learner’s knowledge or memory system including acquisition of information, procedures, and strategies. This includes understanding of information. This is the result of developing neural networks. While educators do not explicitly state that their goal is to develop a new concept through neural networking, this is precisely what they are doing.

Outcome performance is the learner’s performance or actual behavioral changes including retention and transfer behaviors related to new tasks. This is quantified by a test of the cognitive outcomes or qualified by anecdotal records. In essence, the learner is transferring or generalizing what has been acquired cognitively.

When diffused attention allows only bits and pieces of information to be transferred to long-term memory, then cognitive outcomes are affected because both the meaning and significance of the presented information are altered. A good example is watching a person with diffused attention attempt to read. They scan the same page three or four times before they get the full meaning. Many college students reported to me that they read the text book four times! This obviously makes learning more difficult.

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