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Boredom and the Brain

  1. Pen Marissa Nichols
  2. Calendar October 27, 2008

mind-in-the-machineToday I had a chance to finally read this month’s edition of CLO. I enjoyed reading Norm Kamikow’s editorial letter, “The Real Root of All Evil,” a short treatise on boredom and learning. Part of the article references research on brain functions and the correlation of boredom to attention span. The article got my brain running in different directions, as often happens (perhaps my attention span is particularly short?), and I began thinking about a fascinating book I read a couple of years ago, Mind Hacks: Tips & Tools for Using your Brain by Tom Stafford and Matt Webb (they have a great blog that I recommend, too). The book basically breaks down into layman terms how the brain works, particularly focusing on some of the strange ways we can manipulate the brain once we understand its wiring. For example, take this test on “inattention blindness:”

Click the following link and follow the instructions in the “Selective Attention Test” video. Be sure to watch the whole thing, then come back and read the rest of this entry (don’t cheat – you’ll ruin the fun!)…


Be honest- did you really see everything the first time? Our mind is an interesting place, indeed. But back to boredom.

The fact is, very often, the “learning” we’re put through is boring. It taxes our attention spans, or it fails to challenge, or it doesn’t motivate, or a million other things that lead to boredom. Our failings often are the result of either presenting learning the same way over and over (because of budget, resources, or whatever other limiting factor) or we swing the other direction and try to make something “fun” for fun’s sake – yet the “fun” learning doesn’t really challenge the brain after all, leading again to boredom. No new revelations there. So, the question is, What are training providers doing to avoid boredom in their learning initiatives?

Comments 1

  1. Without giving too much away on the video, I’ll add my take on this mind exercise. We can get lazy enough when we think we see the same pattern repeated that we miss out on the break in the pattern or an addition of creativity. This could definitely lead to boredom. One way to fight against the urge is to create teams of people with various strengths. This is not a new idea, but an idea that may not be implemented for the sake of efficiency. Coordinating various design ideas into one might take longer than fusing similar ideas from minds that think alike, but it might also prevent users from falling asleep once the design is implemented.

    Tim Leberecht noted that there just might be an advantage to finding out someone is bored with a course–“boredom is the mother of creativity.” (http://designmind.frogdesign.com/blog/boredom-mother-creativity.html )So, another best practice instructional designers can apply is to get feedback early on. If reviewers are bored, it’s time to get out the creativity caps!

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