15 min read

[Podcast] Virtual Learning: The Numbing Effects of the Information Age

[Podcast] Virtual Learning: The Numbing Effects of the Information Age

Are You Bored Yet?  Probably.

Zoom fatigue is real. We live in a time of information and cognitive overload. And it's become worse since the Covid-19 pandemic. We live in an age of Zoom meetings, video conferencing, and split attention. Both long term memory and working memory are constantly challenged.

We've become numb.

In this episode, we turn our attention to the numbing effects that the information age can have on virtual classrooms, online learning, and learner experiences.

Karen  Vieth, VP of Virtual Learning Solutions at InSync Training chats with  Dr. Charles Chaffin,  Author, Educator, and consultant. He has written 6  books related to areas ofchaffin_3d psychology and teaches in a variety of  programs through Executive Education at several colleges and  universities as well as within his own business. He works with a number  of organizations in helping them maximize their learning programs and  employee productivity.  His latest book Numb: How the Information Age Dulls Our Senses and How We Can Get them Back, is the focus of this podcast.

Click on the image below to listen now, or scroll down for the transcript.


Welcome to Modern Learning on the Air, the InSync Training Podcast. In conversation with some of the top leaders and thinkers in the modern virtual learning space. We will learn about the latest virtual classroom techniques, creative training initiatives and virtual training best practices that will engage and empower your teams, colleagues and learners. Enjoy the show.

KAREN VIETH:       Hello everyone, welcome back to Modern Learning on the Air. My name is Karen Vieth, Vice President of Virtual Learning Services here at InSync Training and today I’ll be talking with Dr. Charles Chaffin, Author, Educator and Consultant. He has written 6 books related to areas of psychology and teaches in a variety of programs through executive education at several colleges and universities, as well as within his own business. He works with a number of organizations in helping them maximize their learning programs and employee productivity. And today we turn our attention to the numbing effects that the information age can have on our virtual learning classrooms. Now, I first had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Chaffin at the IACET third annual national conference back in September where he was a keynote speaker on using strategies from social media, cable news and online dating sites in education and training. Welcome, Dr. Charles, we’re so thankful for you coming today. Would you simply start out by giving us a quick background as to why this research is so important to you?

CHARLES CHAFFIN:        Well, thank you for having me. Yeah, I mean, you know, it is critically important, because we can use some of the strategies that are part of our digital lives, whether it’s social media or cable news or dating apps or whatever it might be to harness that for good, in terms of learning. Not that all the listings are necessary bad, but there are a lot of different strategies to capture attention of our learners and really get them achieving well and it is so much more than just providing content online and thinking that they are going to maximize their achievement. It takes a little bit more than that, so it’s an exciting process and evolution in education.

KAREN VIETH:       Yeah, and something you just hit on is that connection right, just making sure that we are harnessing that connection, that social media, those different apps for good, for learning, for extending beyond the app and really getting to the human side of the learner. So, thank you so much, Charles. You know, during that keynote there were just several questions that we brewing, and I just couldn’t wait to bring you on to this podcast so that we can share some of these questions with our listeners as it really does relate to the impact of virtual learning. So, here at InSync we’ve always been of the mindset that motivation is an internal thing, right? It comes from the learner and we know that motivation is defined as both intrinsic and extrinsic. Now, can you elaborate further and let us know your thoughts on how human motivation can impact learning design across delivery methods, especially when it comes to the virtual classroom?

CHARLES CHAFFIN:        Well, I think first and foremost, you know, we as educators, and I’m painting with a broad brush, we tend to just have an assumption relative to what student motivation might be. We do a very, I think in general, we do a very poor job of that. Usually because we either, A, ignore the notion of student motivation or, B, we think, you know, some element of a pep talk or something of sorts is going to create this high level of motivation which it might for a short period of time, but it is not going to help anybody get through an extended program. So, when we think about motivation, we do think about it in terms of intrinsic and extrinsic and both of them are really really important. I mean, extrinsic motivation is something that comes from beyond the individual. Usually it’s money or it could be status or something like that and intrinsic is coming from within. Usually it’s for the joy of doing it or some sort of pleasure of giving back or acquiring a skill that may be for bettering someone’s community or solving a problem of the world or something like that. So, for an educator, the way we think about that is having intrinsic motivation, having to building upon intrinsic motivation is really process oriented. How can we make the process, how can we motivate our learner to really, really enjoy the process of learning, and that comes really through intellectual curiosity, that comes through questioning and it comes through elements of engagement that are really beyond just providing information and just assuming that the individual is motivated. The same thing comes with the extrinsic piece or extrinsic motivation when it comes to learning and it’s usually related to a grade or relative to completing a program of study and the way, if we think about using ways to make the process more exciting through curiosity through questioning, and then using the extrinsic being transparent about it, I think that’s important, but really being intrinsically focused and thinking about, okay, what are the implications of this content for the learner. So, if you learn this, this is what you’re going to be able to do. That could be critically important as well, and then finally I think there’s a feedback piece of that, which really is kind of extrinsic, but providing specific feedback to the learner and providing, you know, finding as many excuses to have feedback to the learner is really really important.

KAREN VIETH:       Yeah, so I mean, you basically speak our language, right? Motivation kind of gets the learner to class, right? Their joy or their curiosity, their desire to learn whatever it is perhaps, right? It gets them to the class, but it doesn’t necessarily keep them there, right? It’s what we do within that process and that environment that helped to engage them, right, to get them to that next level, and it’s interesting when you mentioned curiosity and intellectual curiosity. I always equate a good class to some sort of good movie, right? So, when you’re sitting at the edge of your seat in a movie theater, or your basement theater or just in front of the television and you are really captured at the end and you just, ahh, want more, that’s what our goal and our hope is, right, in the virtual classroom or any classroom as educators to get them to want that next level and actually here at InSync Training we have research that we’ve done and a model that we’ve created called The Inquiring Engagement Framework, where we talk about three different dimensions of engagement, one being environmental engagement and how environmental engagement then connects to how people feel, right, within the environment that they are learning in, so emotional engagement and then ultimately how all of that impacts and effects intellectual engagement and our ultimate goal is learner transfer, so we take them for motivation and we get them to that learner transfer. So, thank you so much for bringing that up. You know, it’s motivation gets us there, but what do we do as educators to help foster that curiosity to get individuals to want to stay and learn more?

CHARLES CHAFFIN:        I was just going to say, you know, you think about the, one of the best examples of how it’s done wrongly is how math is taught in the public schools. You know, it becomes this notion of exercises, right? And that word, by the way, is you know, that’s a whole behaviorism element of, it gets into the, you know, the GI Bill and teachers getting an education degree off the GI Bill, where there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m not criticizing that, but that whole term of, you know, repeating something over and over again to build a muscle, that’s where that term comes from and the problem with it, with math in general, is what’s the so what of this? What does this really really mean and how can we provide context and meaning to what these exercises are, and it’s not that people don’t need to know what 5 X 8 is, and that it equals 40, but how does that manifest itself in the real world? And so, it’s just an evolution, and you know, you’re talking about the work that you do, it’s really this evolution of going from teaching the learning, and that’s the critical piece of what we’re all doing. Teaching really, really doesn’t matter, it’s always about the learning piece of that. And by the way, I’m not criticizing people that taught years ago or the GI Bill or anything like that, that’s just an evolution of where we are, but it really is providing meaning to what the learning objectives are.

KAREN VIETH:       Right, and it does bring around the focus that we need, and that is about the learner, because it’s about the application, the context, the meaning. It doesn’t matter necessarily that we are teaching a piece of knowledge, right, that we want them to gain, it’s what we’re able to get them to do with that knowledge later on, not in the classroom necessarily, but later when they are either back on the job or you know, utilizing math in real life, you know?

CHARLES CHAFFIN:        That’s right.

KAREN VIETH:       So, I think it’s really important. Now, one of the things that you mentioned both in your keynote and just a moment ago, is the need to identify how to use, or the different forms, how the use of different forms of feedback can be really useful in learning design and stakeholder engagement, so how do you feel like that impacts the virtual classroom?

CHARLES CHAFFIN:        Well, I mean, I think excuses for feedback, we always want to provide excuses for feedback, you know, even if we’re managing a discussion board, we want to provide opportunities for the instructor to provide feedback or for peer feedback, quite frankly, if it’s other learners, that’s critically, critically important if we’re engaging, if a learner is engaging new content and we can build self-efficacy relative to that through periodic feedback based upon whatever objectives we had, and I should mention, you know, one of the first things that people tend to say is well, when should I provide feedback? Well, you should provide feedback as much as you can and it should be based upon the objectives of whatever it is that you are working on. So, if you have, you know, 3 learning objectives relative to unit of study, how are you providing feedback on each of those and you know, you may be doing a formal assessment of multiple-choice test or whatever it might be for one of them and the other two you might be providing written feedback or verbal feedback or whatever it might be. So, you can really be kind of systematic about how you provide feedback based upon what your learning objectives are for the program, but it really does need to be somehow individualized, right? And especially if we’re talking about adult learners and you can do it a number of different ways. You know, I always think about providing an environment even online where we can provide constructive feedback, and you really really have to think about how you go about doing that with an adult learner and doing it in a way that, you know, I always think about particularly if it is a video presentation that somebody has to do, you know, you’re doing some sort of communication exercise or whatever it might be, that can be tough to get feedback relative to that, and so you know, that’s more of an art than a science where I might provide two positive things before I get to two constructive things. So, now sometimes you have to search for those two positive things. Sometimes you have to search for the two constructive. Maybe it’s really really strong, but you go ahead and have some of those positive things. You are building an environment where feedback is valued and that happens not only in a learning environment, that happens in the workplace too. That is one of the toughest things to me that an instructor has to battle, is creating that environment and you really have to be objective and systematic, again, we talked about what you’re providing feedback on, you’ve got to be providing feedback on what the objectives are of whatever learning program you are doing, and you’ve got to make sure that you are providing objectivity and if you start with a constructive first with some learners, they are going to put those defenses up and they’re not going to hear you and so you’ve got to go ahead and think about, okay, here are the things that are going well, and here’s areas where we can improve, you’re building self-efficacy, you’re creating an environment where feedback is valued, it’s heard and it is responded to and now you know as an instructor that this is working or it’s not working, and the only other piece I would mention relative to feedback, you know, we talked about, I mentioned already the so what of the content, you know, why is this important? Well, what’s the so what of your feedback? So, are you going to provide feedback on something on a particular learning episode, whatever it might be, and then what happens? Is there going to be an opportunity for the learner to adapt, to take that feedback and be responsive to it? You know, do you know whether they have accepted that feedback or not? Do they have it, or is this a one off? And sometimes it has to be a one off, you know, I get that. You know, sometimes we don’t have all the time in the world, and if that’s the case, we need to be more specific, okay, when you are doing this again, because we’re not going to be able to do this again in this episode, you know, consider A, B and C and whatnot, so you know, there’s both an art and a science to feedback, but we can do it in such a way, if we’re setting up a good environment, we’re supporting each other, I always think about that too with adult learners, that we’re all in this together and we’re providing constructive feedback and positive feedback, then we can really, we can be sure that they are meeting our learning objectives, we’re building self-efficacy and what we are doing is actually working.

KAREN VIETH:       It’s so interesting to hear you say that and again, it’s just music to my ears, because one of the things that I say here at InSync all the time is feedback is a gift, right, it’s a gift. It’s a gift that we can give and if we don’t provide that feedback or that space like you mention for creating feedback, we’re holding back a gift to that individual, to our employee, to the learner, right?

CHARLES CHAFFIN:        It’s true.

KAREN VIETH:       And something else that you mentioned that I think is so very valuable is emotional intelligence and us as trainers, facilitators, teachers, whatever role you are in as we are educating learners from young to adult, we have to really evaluate our own emotional intelligence to be able to evaluate other emotional intelligence of our learners so that we can set aside an environment which fosters the desire to get feedback, right? And you mentioned something about starting with a positive before we go into that, into say a constructive piece of feedback. We need to make sure that we’re setting the emotional engagement, right, the environment in which the learner is able to receive that feedback, because if they don’t feel they are doing anything in the right direction. They are not going to be open to that feedback like you mentioned. And the third thing that you also stated was, you know, the intent of the learning feedback that we’re giving, really understanding our own trajectory for this feedback that we’re giving and then opening it up to the learner, I think that action planning, right, that feedback and then the action that we’re asking a learner to take upon that feedback and providing them the opportunity to not just hear it, but potentially apply it is really what helps individuals, you know, move forward.

CHARLES CHAFFIN:        Yeah, and you know, I mean, the piece of that too is, you know, if I can, especially with adult learnings, although it does happen I guess with children in some context, but particularly adult learners, if I can set up an environment where not only feedback is valued and responded to, but I can set up an environment where there’s peer feedback and if I have a learner who is providing good feedback to another learner, that’s a form of assessment for me too. I’m seeing, okay, if they’re able to assess strong performance relative to whatever learning objective it is for someone else, then they are probably going to be, there’s a much higher likelihood that they have a better understanding and they can demonstrate that themselves and going forward when they go back into the workplace, they’re going to be able to self-monitor better because they’ve just self-monitored their peers. So, if I can find excuses for peer feedback, not because I don’t want to do my job as an instructor, but finding excuses for peers to assess each other, that’s a great great form of assessment.

KAREN VIETH:       Well, and we all know that peers learn best from peers, right? So, as educators, you know, we’re there to provide content, but we’re also there to facilitate knowledge of the room, right? Especially when we’re talking about adult learners. It’s dose, like you mention, happen with younger students as well, but we need to teach them how to link arms with each other, right? How to be able to be open and constructive and positive with their peers, because then they have, they’ve built something maybe back on the job where they have this individual that they trust now and that they can confide in, and that they can work together towards kind of that feeling of loneliness, another topic that I wanted to bring in that you mentioned in your keynote around this digital age and this informational age that we’re in, you know, being on a discussion board, being in social media, being, you know, in this digital age, we know, and you mentioned, that individuals can feel very lonely and so building in that peer feedback is one way, right, of overcoming some loneliness in this informational age, digital age, but what are your thoughts around overcoming loneliness beyond the peer feedback and how do we, as we put it, leave no learner behind in this digital age?

CHARLES CHAFFIN:        Well, I mean, I’m going to find any way that I can to build a cohort and the cohort is this, you know, this shared group that’s going through this learning experience together. If I do that, the, you know, lots of data suggesting that student achievement is going to be much higher, retention is going to be better, you know, addressing some of the elements of loneliness too, so if I, I can build a cohort and I’m going to take time on the front end to do that. You know, one of the best lines of education that I always use is fast is slow and slow is fast. And if I take extra time on the front end, it may be a little bit slower, but I can move quicker later on, so I may take more time on the front end to do breakout groups on Zoom or Canvas or whatever platform we’re on, talking about specific things that yes, it may be easier for me to just tell them, but I’m going, it’s going to be a better experience if I get them engaging with each other on specific things, this isn’t just a breakout just for the sake of taking a few minutes off, but here’s what we’re going to talk about. I’m going to use the chat function, I want that to be a living, breathing entity throughout what we’re doing. I’m going to, you know, I use a, my area is attention, so I have a seven minute rule, I’m not talking for longer than 7 minutes, I’m opening it up after that. Those different types of things then it’s going to be better. It’s going to be a better experience; they’re going to connect with each other better. This discussion board piece is, if you’re going to do a discussion board, you’re going to manage it, and I would be, you know, if I had a multi-week program, I would be almost systematic too about when I’m providing feedback, you know. I might even, you know, in some of the exec ed programs that I do, you know, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights were the nights I would pop in. And I would pop in and I would start responding to what people are doing. They started to know that it was happening. Like, they would know that’s when I was coming in. And the great thing about that, if you do it the right way, you’re building that cohort, people start to actually go to that discussion board for the enjoyment of being there, for connection, and now they’re engaging the content, not just at 4:00 p.m. on a workday, but they’re thinking about things in the evening or on a weekend and they’re chiming in, and that’s when you’ve really created this great learning experience and they’re engaging the content for longer periods of time which just leads to all kinds of different positive possibilities.

KAREN VIETH:       Yeah, something that comes to mind is be intentional, right? Be intentional as the individual. Plan ahead, plan up front. We can’t just take content and throw it on Zoom and hope it sticks, right? We have to really be planful about what we’re doing with these learners and first and foremost, keep those learners at the forefront, right? It’s about the learner. Start thinking in the mind and shoes of the learner, right and really get them doing something while they are in this virtual classroom, keep them connected and I love what you said about the systematic approach to feedback, you know, building that in to your program, building that in to your blend, as you are putting together the program, it can’t be an afterthought, oh yeah, I need to go check the discussion board. It needs to be built in. Why are we asking learners to do X on the discussion board? If we have no reason for it, then we shouldn’t ask them to do it, right? And so, I think that that’s really important as we start thinking about connecting and keeping learners kind of at that forefront and away from being lonely in this digital world. Well, thank you so much, Dr. Charles, for all of your insight and for coming to our podcast today. We are delighted to have had you. If organizations are looking for answers to the numbing effects the informational age is having on employees and learners, how can they get a copy of your book and then, now can they get in touch with you?

CHARLES CHAFFIN:        Yeah, thanks for the question, Numb is available just about anywhere, certainly on Amazon and most major book retailers. I do work with a lot of organizations on this very topic and you can email me at charles@charleschaffin.com.

KAREN VIETH:       Excellent. Well again, thank you, Dr. Charles, for coming and being part of this for our listeners. Again, thank you so much for coming in and listening. If you’d like to learn more or know more about No Learner Left Behind in the Virtual Classroom, and InSync Training, you can always visit our website at www.insynctraining.com. We do have some certificates and some workshops dedicated to learner engagement on our Train the Trainer section of the website. And if you think you need a hand in virtual design, delivery and/or support of your virtual classroom strategy efforts, please look no further, book a time with us so that we can walk through your virtual training strategy with one of our experts. Again, thank you for coming on InSync Training Modern Learning on the Air Podcast. See you again.


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