When attention deficit meets the “Attention Economy”: experiences of distraction by online learners with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

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University of New Brunswick


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurological disorder that begins in childhood but usually continues into adulthood. Its symptoms include a high degree of distractibility, and it is associated with low academic success. More and more higher learning takes place on the Internet, often through learning management systems (LMSs). The Internet is also the site of the “attention economy,” in which corporations compete for the attention of users so as to attract advertising revenue. To understand what happens when highly distractible users attempt to learn in an environment fraught with distractibility, how they manage distractions, and what instructional designers can do to help them, three college students with both ADHD and experience with online learning were interviewed. Participants described strategies that they use to try to maintain focus, including controlling their physical and online environments, but also indicated that they knowingly engage in behaviors that are counterproductive to focus. They also gave suggestions that instructors could use to help students such as themselves to maintain focus during online learning. Among the conclusions is that the Internet has the potential to both disrupt and enhance learning.