Multi-tasking is all the rage.
As people becoming more tied to their devices, it has become more socially acceptable to multi-task instead of focus on unique behaviors one at a time. People check twitter while watching YouTube videos, check out Snapchat while working on essays, and (in a more unfortunate example) text while driving.
This has lead to a common acceptance of multi-tasking as a fact of life, and a belief that people, especially young people, are becoming less focused and have developed shorter attention spans. If true, the logic follows, this is a problem: resilience, dedication and focus are required to truly address large-scale issues.
Yet, in the middle of this, another phenomenon has arisen: The Binge Watch. While we text, chat, watch videos, etc. in small chunks without focus, we consume visual storytelling via television shows in large chunks, immersing ourselves entirely in the experience and seeing it through to the end, rather than parsing it out in dribs and drabs over the course of months. In what many feel has been a “golden era” for television, this works especially well for truly post-modern, serialized “prestige” shows: while binge watching Law and Order: SVU isn’t much of an experience, shows like The Wire, Breaking Bad, and the Americans contain numerous plots and characters that get fleshed out even more completely if one isn’t distracted and thus always trying to keep up.
This strikes me as an odd contradiction: if we are so unable to focus, why has the Binge Watch become the preferred way to view most television, especially shows most consider to have the most nuanced storytelling? And what might that say about how we best approach learning?
I wonder if we need to refocus our school day or year in this fashion. If we binge watch great television, why can’t we binge learn great subjects? Why are we promoting the multi-tasking we abhor by asking young people to take 6 or 7 classes at once, instead of immersing themselves in two or three? If the value in education is to understand complex processes, why are we putting so many of them on a kid’s plate at once and expecting them to ruminate about the nuance within every one of our subjects simultaneously? While it may be true that some subjects can benefit from longer chronological time in which students can grapple with big issues, are they really getting that if they are moving from subject-to-subject each day, switching gears and always responding to the urgent, i.e. “what’s due in my next class?”
So, with this, I propose, like binge-watching, we consider Binge Learning. Full immersion, without distraction or multi-tasking. See important concepts through to the end, then move to others. Rethink our school day and calendar to allow students the opportunity to sink into the curriculum with their whole selves, rather than the 45 minutes they allot in their multi-tasking schedule. Let students envelop themselves in our subjects the way they envelop themselves in great storytelling. And, most importantly, let’s give them an experience that rivals the nuance, detail, and genius of those post-modern prestige television shows. Watching a truly great show such as The Wire can be one of the most transformational experiences a person can have; there’s no reason our educational system can’t aspire to provide students with a similar experience.