Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2177882-Improving-Learning-and-Attention
Rated: E · Essay · Psychology · #2177882
In a technological era of schooling, it is important to adapt to new systems efficiently.

Maya Gabriella Davies, University of St. Gallen, Assessment Year 2015

University of St. Gallen

School of Humanities and Social Sciences

How to Improve Learning and Attention in the Students of the University of St. Gallen

Maya Gabriella Davies
Waldaustr. 5

9000 St. Gallen

+41 79 898 54 43


No. 15-612-179

Term Paper

Critical Thinking: Psychology: Psychology of Learning and Attention

Mohammed Shafiullah PhD


Going into a technological era of schooling, it is important to adapt to new systems quickly and efficiently. This paper takes a look at how well the University of St. Gallen is adapting to current technological trends, specializing on how they are doing and how they can improve, based on a comparison of the author's impressions and comparing them to the theories from various papers, like Personalized learning: Exploring student and teacher perceptions about flexible learning and assessment in a flipped university course by Wanner and Palmer (2015).



Multi-tasking can cause the IQ to drop, on average, by ten points. According to the experiment Wilson ran in 2005, on eight people, the women's IQ dropped, on average, by 2.75 points and the men's dropped by 18.5 points. Evolutionarily, this makes sense, since women had to tend the household, cook and raise the children - often simultaneously. However, what does this mean in our current day and age, where we are constantly receiving e-mails, messages, etc. while trying to concentrate?

Often, when I sit in lectures, I note how many of my peers have their laptops on in front of them, taking notes. I also note a different group of my peers, who are multi-tasking during the lecture: browsing Facebook, playing games on their computers, etc. Their activities and the movement on their screens distracts me from the lecture, as well, because evolution has primed me to notice motion in order to avoid danger. Sometimes, their neighbors will try to help them out in the game and then the distraction grows from one person multi-tasking to several people multi-tasking.

This begs the question of whether there is anything the HSG can do to prevent this and if it is really the job of the staff and faculty to force us to pay attention. Another important question to ask is what the benefits are of including ICT (Information and Communication Technology) in our lectures and whether there is anything that can be improved upon.

This paper will focus on answering those questions based on a number of studies conducted by third-persons, in-depth research papers on the subject of learning and a touch of my own impressions and ideas based on the theories they discuss.

The Use of ICT in Higher Education (HE)


Attention Deficit Trait (ADT)

ADT is a recent phenomenon in our society. With increasing availability, we find it necessary to read our messages right away, in order to make sure we do not miss anything in our fast-paced society. Few people are ever unavailable - even when on vacation (Wilson, 2005). When your cell phone suddenly dies, you do not know what to do - people might be trying to reach you about something important and you are not able to reply right away. And yet, once you stop freaking out, there is a certain calmness to it. You are free from your ever-buzzing phone and have a moment of peace and quiet - until you get somewhere where you have Wi-Fi to connect to your laptop and find all the messages and e-mails you missed while you were offline, because you are expected to be available 24/7, nowadays.

Looking through the e-mails from the University, I take note of how many were sent between the lectures and how many were sent while lectures were in process. The result is that, of the official e-mails that I had not deleted, twenty-seven were sent out during lecture times and eleven within the break time in-between lectures. My boss has called me numerous times during lectures, necessitating me to call her back during the break. I receive e-mails and phone calls from our clients, who have questions regarding machines we carry that need to be answered right away, because they are in the midst of a creative project and cannot get it to work. While my peers may not be distracted by work-related things, they are just as distracted by friends' posts on Facebook, apps on their phones, chatting with their peers during the lectures, etc. Thus, this is not just a phenomenon that is reserved for the business world.

ADT causes us to work far below our full potential (Zeldes, Sward, & Sigal, 2007), decreasing our IQ on an average of ten points (Wilson, 2005). It increases our potential for making mistakes, makes us think more superficially and reduces our creativity in thinking up new ideas and solutions to problems (Zeldes, Sward, & Sigal, 2007).

Split Attention

Split attention appears when you have two different items that you have to pay attention to simultaneously. For instance, if we take the St. Gallen Management Model, each sphere has subdivisions that are shown next to the others and each of the titles it includes has a definition that one has to keep in mind, while looking at the sphere and its sub-spheres. This forces us to pay attention to all the levels at once, potentially causing an information overload and decreasing our ability to retain this information effectively (Roodrenys, Agostinho, Roodenrys, & Chandler, 2012).

In our lectures, the split attention caused by the model is bridged by our lecturer explaining the model to us. Thus, we can just look at each of the different sections of the model separately, being told how they fit together. This enables us to split our attention only between listening and seeing, which is much easier to do than splitting it between two visual inputs. In addition, we were issued a poster on which to take notes.

According to a study, performed in Australia on 85 university students, it is better to use graphs and illustrations where the text is properly integrated and thus does not cause split attention. However, it is possible to teach students how to effectively cope with split attention by turning the graphs into something more comprehensible to them. This has a lasting effect and is advisable to teach, because it is a frequent problem in teaching materials (Roodrenys, Agostinho, Roodenrys, & Chandler, 2012).

Additionally, it has been shown that, through delivering attention to students periodically throughout the lecture, they can stay on task better (Riley, McKevitt, Shriver, & Allen, 2011). On the other hand, this might be difficult to incorporate in HE due to class sizes.

Flexible Learning and Flipped Classrooms

Flexible learning and teaching is about creating a more personalized learning environment for students with more choices to choose between, to ensure that it fits to their personal style of learning, while maximizing the interaction between various universities to create a more global view and understanding. However, it is important to keep in mind that technology can only act as an enabler - it does not create flexibility in and of itself (Wanner & Palmer, 2015).

There are six core pedagogical elements that can be utilized to create a more flexible, future-oriented education system (Wanner & Palmer, 2015):

  1. Learner empowerment - getting the students involved with the material they are learning and teaching them to play with the material and be creative with it.

  2. Future-facing education - getting the students engaged in thinking about the future global aspects of what they are learning and how one might improve upon it in order to achieve a more preferable result.

  3. Decolonizing education - stepping back from the predominant Western worldviews to create more global and inter-cultural models and methods.

  4. Transformative capabilities - creating a focus on the practical applications of the knowledge rather than just teaching the theory and helping the students understand it, thus transforming it from dry theory into a body of knowledge with practical applications.

  5. Crossing boundaries - cross-linking various disciplines, like psychology and economics or business management and law, in order to enable cross-sector learning and tackle a situation from a different point of view.

  6. Social learning - creating a learning environment that enhances the ability to learn both within and outside of the classroom, especially through the use of new technology and co-curricular activities, like the conversation courses offered at the HSG.

The flipped classroom is, by definition, a mixture of online interactions prior to a lecture and a face-to-face interaction during it. It is disputed how effective this is, however a study done on the effectiveness of using SMS to remind students of deadlines, readings they should do, etc. proved to be fairly effective when it was used according to the terms that were set by the students. In other courses, the participation rate constantly dropped as fewer students showed up. However, in the courses that had the SMS reminders, the students were able to stay motivated (Jones, Edwards, & Reid, 2009). The use of the SMS is, by definition, a technological forerunner to the flipped classroom that we have at the HSG today with Studynet because, back when the study was made, smart phones were not as wide-spread as they are today. Still, I believe there is much we can learn from it.

On the flip side, the increased flexibility in flipped classrooms may lead students to expect less work or to not learn how to take responsibility for their own learning. (Wanner & Palmer, 2015) This was also demonstrated in the study mentioned above, with a few students feeling bothered by the SMS or feeling like they were being watched, though it often helped them to stay on task.

In addition, this new idea of flexibility has to be extended beyond the ideas of the format of the classroom in and of itself. It needs further integration into the assessment process, giving students a choice in the type of assessment they would prefer, in order to play to their strengths and motivate them to learn for learning and not just in order to pass the assessment, because this helps them remember the information long-term and not just short-term.

The difficulty of the flipped classroom is that it requires more time and effort from the professors and is often not supported by the institution. It helps students to have a certain structure, but getting used to flexible deadlines can be detrimental to them in the long run, when they enter the business world. Additionally, students were worried that, if all of their lectures were flipped classrooms, they would not have enough time to prepare for the tutorials, due to clashes in their time-tables. In other words, special attention would have to be given to ensure that this problem does not occur.

The use of technology has one, in my opinion, vital aspect: communication. According to Jones et al. (2009), the flow of information between students and tutors is important to help them succeed in HE - cognitively, physically and technologically. In order to increase the attention and retention in regards to information and give them more motivation, it is important to supply academic, social and personal support, regardless of student persistence (Jones, Edwards, & Reid, 2009). Part of this necessary communication is provided by making the learning goals for the assessment crystal clear and as close to their practical applications as possible (Biggs, 1999).

In Application to the University St. Gallen

One of the things that impressed me was how many of the learning models have been incorporated into what we are offered here at the University of St. Gallen. Biggs (1999) suggests the use of professional, practice-based learning (PBL) that contains a lecture, the equivalent of our exercise groups and group work. I also note that more of my peers seem to attend the exercise groups and seem to pay more attention there (I cannot say this for certain, but I have yet to see anyone playing games during those lectures). So, in that aspect, it seems that the HSG is doing well.

In regards to ADT, the university staff and faculty could improve it by only sending out mass e-mails during the time between lectures, in order to not interrupt with the learning process and distract the students, who are taking notes on their computers - and not playing games. Even if they do not open the e-mail right away to read it, the notification pops up and distracts them from what they were doing. In the time it takes to get back on task, they may have missed something and their attention has definitely dipped, which means they will need to spend more effort at home catching up on what they missed.

The HSG tries to create a constructive learning environment for us:

  • Socially, we start out with our Fresher's Week, getting to know some of our peers and having upperclassmen as tutors, who help us to get to know the HSG and learn the ropes. We get a sense of belonging to the university that encourages us to succeed (Jones, Edwards, & Reid, 2009).

  • Academically, we have both our lectures and exercises to attend, where we are encouraged (and sometimes required) to form study groups in which to work on the exercises. We are encouraged whenever we go up to a professor or tutor to ask questions, either receiving a response or, for longer issues, an appointment to go to their office. This creates more frequent contact with the staff, which encourages us to pay closer attention and helps us to understand the material.

  • Technologically, we are supported by the Studynet and its forums, where we are encouraged to ask questions. We can find all our material there, just like one would in a flipped classroom. However, unlike in a completely flipped classroom, we also have the normal lectures, thus giving us the independence of the flipped classroom without the negative effects it could have.

In regards to the same study, there is still more the HSG can do. Despite everything they offer, there are students who are not taking advantage of the vast infrastructure that is offered to them. Thus, the faculty should try to encourage the students to come to the lectures more often, so they have more face-to-face contact, where they can ask questions.

In addition to that, due to the fact that SMS are now a relatively old technology, my suggestion would be to create an app that is connected to the forums on the Studynet. This would be helpful both for the students and faculty, because it would decrease the time delay between when questions are asked and answered. Currently, you have to log in to the Studynet and actively go to the forum to find out if anyone has posted anything. If you have push-notifications on your smart phone, you can automatically see if someone has posted. Thus, you can quickly answer the question or read the answer within the app, avoiding the necessity to constantly sign in to the Studynet. In the long run, this would save time and the faculty would avoid being bogged down by e-mails.

Due to the infrastructure already being there, I would recommend more quizzes being put on Studynet, like the ones that have been available in our Economics class as a study aid. Students can try to answer the quiz and, if they do not understand something, they can try and figure out the answer themselves or directly ask in the forums. Because other students also post there, they can profit from their questions, as well, and there is a feeling of community driving them to learn more, which motivates them to pay attention.

On the other hand, this app could cause an additional input for ADT, thus creating an even greater information overload and distracting both students and tutors during their lessons. In order to lessen this problem, one would have to be able to disable the push notifications. Additionally, it would be good to try it out as an experiment on a select group of people to see if it is efficient or just causes an information overload.

Giving students attention on fixed intervals can only work in smaller groups, seeing as it is very difficult for a professor or tutor to see what a student is doing in the back row when there are five hundred or more students sitting in the same room. However, it could be effectively used in the exercise classes, if the tutor notices that the student is not paying attention.

Additionally, though our professors try to bridge the gap between the graph and the descriptions verbally, it is highly recommended that all materials, which are handed out, are designed on the basis of cognitive load theory (CLT), since this has a large impact on how well a student can learn the material, due to their attention not being split.

Looking at the flexibility demanded of the future classrooms, the HSG performs fairly well:

  1. Learner empowerment - our professors always try to bring in as many examples as they can to illustrate the examples. Additionally, we have our exercise sessions and various areas recommended to us for self-study. For instance, in Marketing, we had various problems sets that we worked through as a group and presented. In addition to that, in Management, we had to interview a manager, to better understand what it means to be a manager. Thus, we were empowered and encouraged to learn the material and be creative with it in coming up with ways to solve problems.

  2. Future-facing education - we are encouraged to think about the global aspects of business and economics. The lecturers brought up topics that were current, enabling us to connect them to current events and to understand what the repercussions of various actions can be, like Volkswagen losing its reputation. They bring up the issue of China replacing the low-salary workers and how they might soon also replace the white-collar workers, as well.

  3. Decolonizing education - this aspect is lacking somewhat. In Law, we mostly hear about Switzerland, which is relatively understandable, with a few excursions into how law is practiced in other Western countries. In other subjects, there seems to be a predominant focus on Switzerland, the way things work here, and the European Union that surrounds us, with a few short elaborations regarding China and Japan. While this is understandable, because we live here and we are most familiar with Switzerland, we should try to think a little more globally with our models and attempt to include foreign cultures as well - even in the assessment year.

  4. Transformative capabilities - this aspect, on the other hand, is given a strong emphasis through our exercise groups. In our lectures, we learn the general knowledge we need and, in the exercise groups, we learn how to transform it from raw knowledge into understanding and practical knowledge, for example by using case studies in Law exercises.

  5. Crossing boundaries - this aspect is also very well-covered. In Economics, we hear about the connections to Business and Law; in Law, we hear about Business Law; and, in Business, we are taught about the connections to what we have already learned in Economics.

  6. Social learning - this is yet another aspect, which is required in our exercise groups (by the act of forming a team for working on exercises) and encouraged by offering additional co-curricular activities, like the conversation courses for languages or the tutoring sessions for math.

Regarding versatility in our assessment, we are, to a certain extent, allowed to pick the subject on which we write a paper. Thus, we are given some freedom in that respect. However, we are not able to pick our deadlines. Similarly, we are not allowed to choose whether we would prefer to have a multiple choice exam or a written exam. In the assessment year, it would be difficult to even provide these choices, due to the large student body. However, in later semesters, it would be worth trying in order to see how the results compare with the students who could not choose their own deadlines.


Based on my observations in comparison to the theory we have covered, it is evident that the HSG is doing very well. The staff and faculty know what they are doing and they follow many of the theories of education very well, which are mentioned above, but there are several things they can improve upon as well:

First of all, official, mass e-mails that are sent to the student body should be sent during the breaks (i.e. before 08:15, after 20:00 hours or during the fifteen minute breaks between lectures). Secondly, HSG could provide an app connecting to the forums on Studynet with push-notifications, which can be turned on and off, in order to increase the flow of information and save time.

In general, the ICT we have is a great aid for us in our studies and enables students to either work from home or come to the university. Thus, it answers the increased demand for flexibility from the flipped classroom without giving up on the traditional style of working. Additionally, we can always look up what a class' learning goals are, bundling our sources into fulfilling those first, before straying into the other aspects of the subject to flesh it out.

One issue that cannot feasibly be dealt with is the problem that, with multi-tasking going on in a large classroom with hundreds of students, it is impossible to figure out who is paying attention and who is not. The students need to learn what the repercussions of their actions are and then it is their own choice whether or not to continue multi-tasking.

There are several studies that could be done in the future to see if increasing the versatility in the assessment might improve the mean average of students' grades in the long run. Additionally, HSG could do a trial run of the app for the forums on Studynet to see if it has a positive or negative effect on the students and faculty.


Biggs, J. (1999). What the Student Does: teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 18(1), 57-75. doi:10.1080/0729436990180105

Jones, G., Edwards, G., & Reid, A. (2009, November). How can mopile SMS communication support and enhance a first year undergratuate learning environment? ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology, 17(3), 201-218.

Riley, J. L., McKevitt, B. C., Shriver, M. D., & Allen, K. D. (2011, September). Increasing On-Task Behavior Using Teacher Attention Delivered on a Fixed-Time Scedule. Journal of Behavioral Education, 20(3), 149-162. doi:10.1007/s10864-011-9132-y

Roodrenys, K., Agostinho, S., Roodenrys, S., & Chandler, P. (2012, November / December). Managing One's Own Cognitive Load when Evidence of Split Attention is Present. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26(6), 878-886. doi:10.1002/acp.2889

Wanner, J., & Palmer, E. (2015, March 27). Personalized learning: Exploring student and teacher perceptions about flexible learning and assessment in a flipped university course. Computers & Education, 88, 354 - 369.

Wilson, G. (2005). Infomania. London: Porter-Novelli. Retrieved from www.drglennwilson.com/Infomania_experiment_for_HP.doc

Zeldes, N., Sward, D., & Sigal, L. (2007, August). Infomania: Why we can't afford to ignore it any longer. First Monday, 12(8). Retrieved from journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1973/1948

Declaration of Authorship:

I hereby declare:

  • That I have written this work on my own without other people's help (copy -editing, translation, etc.) and without the use of any aids other than those indicated;

  • That I have mentioned all the sources used and quoted them correctly in accordance with academic quotation rules;

  • That the topic or parts of it are not already the object of any work or examination of another course unless this has been explicitly agreed on with the faculty member in advance;

  • That my work may be scanned in and electronically checked for plagiarism.

Effective number of characters used (including spaces): 21,438


© Copyright 2018 Fire-Mage (fire-mage at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
Writing.Com, its affiliates and syndicates have been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work.
Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2177882-Improving-Learning-and-Attention