1. Deck, Michele MEd, BSN, RN, LCCE, FACCE

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Have you ever looked out into the sea of faces at a learning event and seen people with open eyes but wandering minds? Have you seen the scowling faces of those who want to get back to doing other things? Have you seen one or two bored people, or more than that, in the learning population?


If so, you are not alone. Whether we teach one or several people at a time, their minds do occasionally wander. The only trouble with this mental vacation occurring is that they will not remember anything we are teaching or demonstrating at that moment. They won't remember what they are reading or doing on the Internet/intranet module they are completing. Too much of the same thing tends to lull people into a mental stupor. The amount of time we can retain people's active attention is becoming shorter each year.


Television and the media have unconsciously helped to condition people to have very short attention spans. Everything now is in "sound bites," and television shows have more commercial time than ever. These commercial breaks are designed to "reawaken" our brains and ready us for more show content. The average length of a television content segment is between 5 and 6 minutes. Five years ago it was 7 to 8 minutes, so it is getting shorter as the years go by. We can plan teaching to model what works by refocusing learners as television does.


In my 2002 columns, I concentrated on how to start a class on the right foot, with a positive and involving attitude for both the learner and the educator. This year, I'd like to offer a few of my ideas on the importance of refocusing and regaining learner attention at intervals when you are teaching live or by the Internet.


If you are teaching live students, book ball is one of my favorite refocusers and is also a way to review content without anyone focusing on that aspect. Ask learners to stand and quickly form teams of two, three, or four people. They are to hold the handout you have provided because it serves as the paddle in the activity. You provide each team with a wadded up piece of paper, which serves as the ball. Explain to the team that when you say "go," one person will hit the ball to another member with the handout paddle, and the ball will continue in play. When the ball is missed, the person who last hit it must tell the group one thing he or she has learned in class that is important. Begin the activity by saying "Go!" You will notice that everyone will be awake and smiling, some even laughing when this activity occurs.


This shifts learners' physical and mental alert button back to being "on." Allow the activity to occur for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on the time you have. If you are teaching in the virtual world, invite learners to see how many times they can throw and catch a paper ball without dropping it for 15-30 seconds.


When the learners all return to their seats in class or at the computer, they will be awake, refreshed, and ready to learn because their attention level is at its highest again. This time is an investment in guaranteeing the learner will both hear and remember the information when we are finished with the lesson. Planning time to refocus learners is just as important as deciding how much time we give them to return demonstrate a new skill.


Good luck and have fun!