When trying to write a report, would you be equally distracted by a brightly colored post-it on the wall (visible), as by a chirping bird landing on your window (visible and audible)? Is all the distracting information around us equally harmful to successful learning? Combining knowledge from various disciplines in psychology and cognitive neuroscience, and methods spanning behavioral responses and measurements of brain activity, Nora Turoman’s research aims to uncover what distracts us the most, how distraction impacts memory and learning, and how these effects change with age from childhood to adulthood.
My plans for the fellowship period
During my fellowship, I will investigate the effects of distraction on children’s memory and learning in three steps: 1) lab-based research, 2) in-school research in collaboration with teachers, and 3) discussions with educators on implementing the project’s findings in the classroom.
In my lab-based research, I will measure how distractions that stimulate only one sense (vision or audition; typically researched) and distractions that stimulate multiple senses at a time (vision and audition; typical in real life) influence memory for educationally relevant objects like letters and numbers. Next, for in-school research, I will work with local primary school teachers to devise tasks that verify the above lab-based results in the school setting. By tapping into teachers’ vast expertise with children’s sources of distraction, I will be able to study distraction in a direct and realistic way that opens the door to practical application. For the last step, I will organize roundtable discussions and workshops with educators on how to implement the combined evidence of this project in classroom practice.
How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
Science currently does not fully understand how distraction impacts memory and learning, in part because of the artificial way that distraction is typically studied in the lab. We know that distraction can hinder learning, and that the inability to resist distraction is related to lower memory abilities. What we do not know, is whether all forms of distraction are equally harmful, and whether every child’s memory and learning are equally impacted. Answering these questions is more important than ever, in a time when news headlines are full of fearmongering about the distractedness of young learners, and when learning environments are facing constant changes.
By investigating more realistic types of distraction in controlled lab environments and fully realistic distraction in classroom environments, my project will bring scientific knowledge closer to understanding learning in real life. More importantly, by working together with teachers, the project will provide concrete knowledge that educators can apply in their day-to-day teaching practices. In this way, my project will directly contribute to helping improve learning opportunities for all children.