The White Carpet Theory of Learning (#78)

My theory is that learning is immensely improved when we focus on one thing at a time. While we love to say we can multitask, it really isn’t possible given the way our brains work. Instead, we shift our focus back and forth, losing concentration, time, and effectiveness with each change.

Students will say that they can’t focus on only one thing at a time. They have grown up with personal technology, active social lives, and heavily scheduled activities, and doing only one thing at a time seems too slow, as if they were driving 20 miles per hour on the highway.

When they are studying, they glance at their phones for incoming texts, keep Facebook on their computer screens, and have music playing. “It’s how I do it,” they say. Then they complain about how much time it takes to study, yet they don’t remember what they read.

My white carpet theory is this: Remember the last time you were at someone’s house, carrying a plate of food. Picture their white carpeting, and the slow motion of your food sliding off your plate, tumbling through the air, droplets of gravy or butter sauce, chunks of vegetables, and slices of rare meat falling, falling toward the floor. It seemed like minutes, yet you couldn’t move fast enough to catch anything and avoid the stains developing and spreading.

Can you remember every drop, every piece, every color and texture of your food being attracted as if magnetized by that carpet? Of course. And you remember each person who was there to witness the accident. And exactly where you were standing. And how you felt.

So if you can remember all those details of something that took only seconds of your attention, why can’t you do the same with studying?

Instead of trying to study for an hour, set an alarm for ten minutes. Or even five. Then use this same power of concentration to focus solely on your work, picturing each thought of the text in your mind. As soon as the alarm sounds, stop studying and walk away.

A few moments later, test yourself to see whether you remember more of what you read.

Repeat as necessary.

You can do it!


A New Chapter in Student Success (Post #77)

I am sitting at a desk only temporarily mine, shifting into a cubicle for a while until a remodeling is completed, then moving into an office at a new job as a lead instructor and facilitator, an advisor and mentor, a trainer and administrator at a career college. 

The numbers are lower – from 60,000 students at my former university, to just over 400 here.  There are fewer degrees offered, although unlike many career colleges, this one offers degrees rather than certificates.  Students complete an associate’s degree including their general education courses, giving them a well-rounded education as well as skills in a specific career field. 

Also unlike many career colleges, we are a not-for-profit educational institution, meaning that we answer to the goals of education rather than the interests of shareholders. 

It’s a unique opportunity to reach out to students who have a career path in mind, who are willing to work hard to develop themselves beyond the basic skills.  Our students are guided by principles of self-actualization, self-efficacy, self-regulation, and the self-fulfilling prophesy that if they believe in themselves and work toward their dreams, they will succeed.

I am looking forward to learning even more about helping these students find their success through education and move onward to a satisfying career and fulfilling life.  I will be sharing my insights on what helps these students, and whether there is a difference in needs among undergraduate students at large research universities and small career colleges.

I hope you’ll follow and add your thoughts, comments, and questions, to mine.