Allocation of Attention in Classroom Environments: Consequences for Learning

Abstract

The current study investigates how young children allocate their attention in learning environments. Prior research has shown that elementary school students spend between 25%-50% of instructional time off-task. However, the available research has not clearly identified the common sources of distraction, nor specified the relationship between the distraction source and learning outcomes. In this study we examined how visual features of the environment which are not relevant for on-going instruction (e.g., manipulatives, posters, artwork, etc.) affect children’s ability to maintain focused attention to the content of a lesson. We addressed this question by experimentally manipulating our laboratory classroom environment (e.g., introducing or removing educational materials irrelevant to the current lesson). The effects of the manipulation on children’s off-task behavior and learning were measured. Results suggested that children in the Low Visual Distraction condition spent less time off-task and obtained higher learning scores than children in the High Visual Distraction condition.


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