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Myth and Mystery of Shrinking Attention Span

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Myth and Mystery of Shrinking Attention Span

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Everything is fast today, whether it be the food that you consume, the travel modes, entertainment and in general all walks of life. Never before in the history of humans have we seen such a hurry to get going. This is the consequence of the ‗mobile culture' that is progressively afflicting our society. Some people call it digital distraction, but others describe it as the way things are done today. One of the deepest concerns expressed by many scientists and researchers is the attention span that is shrinking, people are jumping from one message to another or speaking to three people at the same time and sometimes they call themselves as multitasking wise kids of the modern age. Well, it is easy to understand that the speed of communication, travel and methods of transfer of speech and data have improved with innovative Technology, but the question is, are we allowing enough time at the receiving or sending end to complete or comprehend a message. But some other researchers are calling the whole thing a bluff. Hence the selection of the present topic to find out the reality of the situation. Keywords: The hurry to get things done, mobile culture, digital devices and multitasking, innovative technologies, a bane of the 'always on' society. Some myths about…
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International Journal of Trend in Research and Development, Volume 5(3), ISSN: 2394-9333
www.ijtrd.com
IJTRD | May Jun 2018
Available Online@www.ijtrd.com 1
Myth and Mystery of Shrinking Attention Span
Dr. K. R. Subramanian
Professor of Management & Senior Consultant Operations, Credait.com
Abstract: Everything is fast today, whether it be the food that
you consume, the travel modes, entertainment and in general
all walks of life. Never before in the history of humans have
we seen such a hurry to get going. This is the consequence of
the ‗mobile culture‘ that is progressively afflicting our society.
Some people call it digital distraction, but others describe it as
the way things are done today. One of the deepest concerns
expressed by many scientists and researchers is the attention
span that is shrinking, people are jumping from one message to
another or speaking to three people at the same time and
sometimes they call themselves as multitasking wise kids of
the modern age. Well, it is easy to understand that the speed of
communication, travel and methods of transfer of speech and
data have improved with innovative Technology, but the
question is, are we allowing enough time at the receiving or
sending end to complete or comprehend a message. But some
other researchers are calling the whole thing a bluff. Hence the
selection of the present topic to find out the reality of the
situation.
Keywords: The hurry to get things done, mobile culture, digital
devices and multitasking, innovative technologies, a bane of
the ‘always on’ society. Some myths about…
I. INTRODUCTION
In the always-connected world of social media, smart phones
and hyperlinks in the middle of everything you read, you can
feel how difficult it is to stay focused. And there are statistics
too. Some say that the average attention span is down from 12
seconds in the year 2000 to eight seconds now. That is less
than the nine-second attention span of your average gold fish.
These statistics have been seen in Time magazine,
the Telegraph, the Guardian, USA Today, the New York
Times or the National Post. You might have heard a Harvard
academic citing them on US radio. Or perhaps you read the
management book - Brief. But if you pay a little more attention
to where the statistics come from, the picture is much murkier.
Many people who dedicate their working lives to studying
human attention have no idea where the numbers come from.
In fact, they think the idea that attention spans are getting
shorter is not correct.
Figure 1: A study of attention span of drivers who do multi-
tasking all the time.
A study of attention in drivers and witnesses to crime says the
idea of an "average attention span" is very much meaningless.
"It's very much task-dependent. How much attention we apply
to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is." But
the idea that there's a typical length of time for which people
can pay attention to even that one task has limited value.
There's something else fishy about those attention span
statistics too. It turns out that there is no evidence that goldfish
- or fish in general - have particularly short attention spans or
memories, despite what popular culture suggests.
There are many effects from smart phones and the like on the
human body which are never mentioned. Information
technology (IT) is much more powerful in unrecognized ways
than is generally acknowledged. Because these various IT
devices are often very close to a person‘s body, and so they
can and do have profound effects on the human bioelectric
field. The key factor in this ever-intensifying dynamic between
human and technology is the length of time of daily
interaction. In other words, picking up a cell phone to make a
couple of calls a day is one thing; being tied to your smart
phone 24 hour a day, 7 days a week is something altogether
different. Herein lies, one of the key causes of the shrinking
attention span. Additionally it has been found that constant
exposure to cell phones near our heads may be dangerous.
Attention span is connected directly to the presence of mind
necessary to sincerely engage in person-to-person interaction.
How often do the younger generations give up the focus of
personal interaction for the sake of not missing the internet
events of the day? Things are now moving so quickly that
many within the younger generations do not want to miss out
on anything. Consequently, their attention spans are being
shortened to accommodate that next ―BIG‖ event which can
only be experienced on the internet or by way of the smart
phone.
Figure 2: Einstein - was he right?
There is a growing body of thinking that our ability to absorb
new technologies is not as fast as the growth of these
International Journal of Trend in Research and Development, Volume 5(3), ISSN: 2394-9333
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technologies. Probably this is what Einstein and other people
had forecast!
II. OBJECTIVES AND METHODOLOGY
Data Processing and transfer has become very fast, thanks to
the development of digital and other mobile technologies. But
the moot question is whether our abilities to absorb them fully
have gone up simultaneously. Human interactions take a little
time to absorb what is said. Hence Communications can be
effective only if we allow adequate time for the information to
be absorbed; if there is a constant and uninterrupted
communication, it may be difficult or our faculties to
concentrate sufficiently to absorb what is said. In the current
business environment, more and more data needs to be
transferred continuously and so the attention span is reduced
and this is very critical and important. In the current
environment of business, multi-tasking is the norm and it
needs to be seen how this is achieved. With these thoughts in
mind the following objectives have been identified for the
purpose of the current research paper.
1. Environmental changes calling for faster work.
2. How digital technologies have been adopted to meet
these challenges.
3. Will this work and what are the psychological
constraints?
4. Importance of attention span and research conclusions
on the same.
5. Conclusions and recommendations.
The Objectives selected above have been considered after a lot
of discussion among friends and likeminded researchers
interested in the topic of attention span. Since a lot of
published research is available on the topic, it was decided to
make a comprehensive search of literature and collect Data.
The collected information and data were classified to draw
conclusions from the same. During the process of research it
was found that adequate data from previous research in related
topics was available. Then the work o the researcher was
reduced to compiling, editing and classifying data to meet the
research objectives. This has been done satisfactorily and the
conclusions have been made on the basis of the same. This can
be seen towards the end of the paper.
III. REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Our attention spans have not just come down as a whole
we‘re having trouble focusing in general on what is in front of
us. Forty-four percent of one of the study participants said they
have to concentrate really hard to stay focused on tasks, and 37
percent said they‘re not able to make the best use of their time,
which forces them to work late or on weekends. The study also
looked at how we use smart phones and found that 77 percent
of 18 to 24-year-olds reaches for their phone when they are
bored, 52 percent check their phone every 30 minutes or less,
and 79 percent use their phone while they are watching TV.‖ If
these numbers aren‘t alarming, it is what the future holds for
those who come after these groups which may prove to be
more negative in societal ramifications.
Living in society has never been so complex and challenging
on many levels as before. Something as simple as driving in
city traffic has now become a major chore; not because there
are more cars and trucks on the roads; rather, because of what
people are doing in their vehicles when they should only be
driving (multi-tasking with mobile phones!). What‘s the real
point here? Safety! In America, in many places it is becoming
more and more dangerous to drive down the street when the
other driver is still putting on her makeup while drinking her
coffee and pecking out a text message that was unnecessary in
the first place. In the man‘s case, he‘s tying his tie or cutting
his mustache. In any case, the attention is not being placed on
that which requires it the most. Particularly when individuals
sleep with their smart phones, is this societal challenge
becoming a potentially serious problem. Answering calls and
text messages throughout the night only further disrupts
necessary sleep. Making this a habit will ultimately cause sleep
deprivation which will inevitably translate to accidents and
poor work performance.
The incidence of both ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) have been
rising rapidly over the past couple of decades, just as Autism
and Asperger‘s syndromes have seen a marked increase over
the same time period. There are several cofactors for this, of
which information technology is a primary one. With each
passing year, changes in society have been placing greater
demands on the teenagers and young children to perform as
adults. This pressure to keep up with everyone else is placing
inordinate pressures on young people, some of whom are
simply unable to cope. Lack of Effective stress management
has always been a major contributor to the ability or inability
to focus. This in turn affects our attention span. Unavoidably,
attention spans will continue to shorten as long as information
technology is allowed to intrude on our lives 24/7.
Figure 3: Attention deficiency effects in Canada and the USA.
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Handheld devices have become ruggedized for use in mobile
management. In 2009 developments in the mobile systems
enabled managing parts and scanning barcode systems. Hand
held devices were enabled for use in video conferencing, on-
screen drawing capabilities and conferencing on real time
independent of location. Smart phones, handheld PDAs, Ultra-
mobile PCs, Tablet PCs made it possible to watch TV through
internet by IPTV on some mobile devices. Progressively these
were made available on cellular phones. Strictly speaking,
many so-called mobile devices are not mobile; it is the mobile
human host carrying non-mobile smart phone devices.
All current computer device technologies are indeed limited by
the speed of electron motion. This limitation is rather
fundamental, because the fastest possible speed for
information transmission is of course the speed of light, and
the speed of an electron is already a substantial fraction of this.
Where we hope for future improvements is not so much in the
speed of computer devices as in the speed of computation.
namely, an algorithm. A very efficient algorithm can perform a
computation much more quickly than can an inefficient
algorithm, even if there is no change in the computer
hardware. So further improvement in algorithms offers a
possible route to continuing to make computers faster by
taking into account some of the quantum-mechanical
properties of future computer devices, we can devise new
kinds of algorithms that are much, much more efficient for
certain computations.
The computer can be made faster by the simple expedient of
decreasing its size. Better techniques for miniaturization have
been for many years, and still are, the most important approach
to speeding up computers. So to make computers faster, their
components must become smaller. At current rates of
miniaturization, the behavior of computer components will hit
the atomic scale in a few decades. Another thing being looked
at is software that will better utilize the capabilities of present
machines. A surprising statistic is that some 90 percent of the
time, the newest desktop computers run in virtual 86 mode--
that is, they are made to run as if they were ancient 8086,
eight-bit machines--despite all their fancy high-speed, 32-bit
buses and super color graphics capability. This limitation
occurs because most of the commercial software is still written
for the 8086 architecture. Windows NT, Windows 95 and the
like are the few attempts at utilizing PCs as 32-bit, high-
performance machines.
Fiber-optics and light systems would make computers more
immune to noise, but light travels at exactly the same speed as
electromagnetic pulses on a wire. Optical computing could, in
principle, result in much higher computer speeds. Much
progress has been achieved, and optical signal processors have
been successfully used for applications such as synthetic
aperture radars, optical pattern recognition, optical image
processing, fingerprint enhancement and optical spectrum
analyzers. Many problems in developing appropriate materials
and devices must be overcome before digital optical computers
will be in widespread commercial use. In the near term, at
least, optical computers will most likely be hybrid
optical/electronic systems that use electronic circuits to
preprocess input data for computation and to post process
output data for error correction before outputting the results.
The promise of all-optical computing remains highly
attractive, however, and the goal of developing optical
computers continues to be a worthy one.
A myth that has captured the imagination of the managerial
class is that our attention spans are shrinking in this digital era.
Last year, the BBC carried a story, ―Busting the attention span
myth‖, which showed that the oft-quoted statistic of the
average attention span being down from 12 seconds in 2000 to
eight seconds now is not based on any real research. This
particular number was from a 2015 report by the Consumer
Insights team of Microsoft Canada, which surveyed 2,000
Canadians and also studied the brain activity of 112 people as
they carried out various tasks, the report said. The intriguing
part is that the figure itself was not from Microsoft‘s research;
it was a citation from another source called ‗Statistic Brain‘.
The BBC reporter contacted two of the sources cited by
Statistic Brain the National Centre for Biotechnology
Information at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and the
Associated Press and neither could find any research that
backed up the numbers. Statistic Brain chose not to speak to
the BBC reporter, and other specialists who spoke to the
reporter had no idea where the numbers came from either.
However, the mythical statistic gained traction.
The focus in this digital age has moved from in-depth
reporting to real-time tweeting and single-line news scrolls on
television screens. Exhaustive reports have given way to
information tit bits that are often without a proper context. The
emergence of click bait journalism, which is far removed from
the purpose of journalism, is one of the biggest disservices of
the digital age. Debate has given way to personal slander and
interrogation to bubble filters, inquisitiveness has been
replaced by echo chambers, and dialogue has got trapped in
algorithmic silos.
Figure 4: Long-form reports thrive in a time of click bait
journalism
During this phase of searches for digital revenues and a
reductionist approach to journalism, it is heartening to see The
Hindu (a popular daily newspaper in English, in India)
providing an answer to the media‘s existential question: how
can we stay relevant in this digital avalanche of information? It
did not opt for click bait journalism, but opened up its pages
more for long-form journalism. Today, it can be said with
utmost certainty that The Hindu is the only paper in India
which has about 20 pages dedicated to rigorous, long-form
journalism a week.
It is all the rage to say that the modern attention span is
decreasing because of the online world. It is simply a way of
blaming the audience for your failure to communicate. The
latest reason for rolling out the shorter attention span excuse
for poor communication has been based on an unreferenced
non-peer reviewed marketing report (PDF) by Microsoft that
didn‘t even manage to clearly define what attention span was,
although it did categorize three types. While the report made
some good, self evident, marketing points, it talks more about
how attention shifts more quickly between technologies, not
that attention span per se is declining. In fact, the effort to
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multitask seems to be the real problem here. And no matter
what we may like to believe about ourselves, science
says nobody can multitask effectively.
The whole mess about attention span in this report came from
a factoid in a balloon diagram (below) that was then used as a
headline and lead sentence by multiple news outlets. The
balloon diagram stated that human attention span was less than
a goldfish down from 12 sec in 2000 to 8 sec in 2013. Its
reference was - The non-peer reviewed, relatively
unscientific Statistic Brain.
ATTENTION SPAN
Figure 5: The much publicized gold fish Story (illustrated)
It also claimed a goldfish‘s attention span was 9 sec. That last
fact should have been an alarm bell to a half decent reporter.
How do you measure the attention span of a goldfish? The
media have a lot to answer for, after failing to check the source
of their headlines and spreading this rubbish far and wide.
In the digital age, it seems the ability to stay focused is now
considered a superpower. A weaker attention span could be the
side effect of the brain having to adapt and change over time in
the presence of technology. However, there are ways to
improve our attention span amid the ongoing texts, tweets, and
other interruptions. A 2012 study published in The Journal of
Nutrition found mild dehydration can cause you to lose
concentration. It is imperative to stay hydrated even when you
don‘t feel thirsty. Men should drink 13 cups of total beverages
a day while women should drink nine cups, according to
the Mayo Clinic. A 2013 study published in the journal PLOS
ONE found increasing your fitness level can do wonders for
your attention span. Men who were part of a Spanish cycling
team responded seven percent much faster than the less fit
group in a computerized task. Exercising the body is
exercising the brain. The same study found an office worker
gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it takes
an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an
interruption. It‘s better to give a task a dedicated time slot to
solely focus on your work and ignore the irrelevant.
Technological devices that are within reach can easily lure you
in to decrease your attention span.
Traditionally, training was delivered in instructor-led
workshops that lasted from two hours to two weeks. (Indeed,
research suggests that the majority of training is still delivered
in this way). But today‘s audience has little tolerance for this
these behemoth sessions and companies are asking whether
these extended sessions are delivering an effective return on
the investment. There is a growing movement toward replacing
tortuous training marathons with brief learning experiences
that are delivered, as needed, where needed, via the internet.
These brief training experiences have been referred to in a
variety of ways including micro-training, short-form training,
as-needed training, and my favorite: ―burst training.‖ I like the
term burst training because it correctly suggests that the learner
is receiving a quick jolt of knowledge. The ideal burst training
can be defined as ―Ten minutes of training, within five minutes
of its need, to an audience of one.‖ In the next few months, we
are going to look carefully at brief training experiences and we
will examine what can and cannot be taught this way, the best
training media for bursts, the special power of ―video bursts,‖
and most importantly, how using bursts affects retention and
transfer.
Contrary to popular belief, students don‘t have short attention
spans. They can focus for hours on a single project. But it has
to feel relevant and meaningful to them and they need to have
the time and the space to accomplish it. It‘s not easy in a world
of school bells and curriculum maps. However, it‘s something
we should strive for. We should draw students in to the deeper,
slower work of creativity because when that happens,
learning feels like magic.
Figure 6: The myth of shortening attention span of kids
So, there are many truths and a few myths about the shrinking
attention span. This is situational, for example children are not
distracted by anything when they watch comics or other
programs of interest. It is for us the grownups from an earlier
generation to understand these social changes and adapt to the
new realities.
IV. DATA ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION
There is no two opinions about the fact that working
environments in organizations are changing with every
innovation in technology. Humans have adopted technological
changes as a way of progress, and these technological changes
have been accelerated by the digital proliferation of mobiles
and other aids. One of the critical changes has been that the
work needs to be performed faster and faster to cope with the
speed of flashing messages across continents and among
younger and adventurous people. People seem to exhibit a
tendency for undue haste and hurry to complete tasks and find
solutions to their problems. Marketing and product
manufacturing companies seem to be aware and exploiting the
current environment
Digital Technologies have been adopted as a means of coping
up with the speed with which work needs to be accomplished.
Learning and Training are greatly enhanced by the two way
process of interactive media. This interactive feature is the
distinctive feature of current business, industrial and
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educational environments. Whether digital technologies have
been thrust on us or not is not a question or matter for debate.
These technologies have definitely improved the quality of our
lives and the younger generation is already adopting it. Every
invention or new technology is a challenge, starting from the
invention of the wheel. The only logical and practical way
forward is to accept the realities of a changing world.
Will this work and what are the psychological constraints?
This is the vital question that organizations and consultants are
trying to find answers to. However this hurried way of doing
business may not be compatible with the human psyche. This
is because of ‘the attention span’ that varies depending on the
task and the natural inclination of the doer. A lot of attention
has been paid and continues to interest researchers how
generations of humans can cope with. It is not only the skill
sets needed to complete a task but the motivation to do so is
more important. That is why a lot of research is being done in
this field to find solutions.
While the concept of attention span is receiving a lot of
attention from researchers and academicians, organizations
have to be guarded against opinions which are self serving in
nature, even if coming out of multinationals with a lot of
‗fanfare‘ through media channels and web pages. Companies
and organizations should independently assess the value of
new technologies and the impact on customer views and how
they are influenced by digital distractions through the media of
mobiles and network of web pages and messages through
friends and opinion makers. In the current environment where
the medium has become the message, companies need to
evaluate their media policies for advertisement!
As the technology is marching with giant strides, the skill sets
and ability to exploit the same have to be developed. This is
where the concept of attention span makes a halt. Digital
technologies assume that there is no halt or pause before
adoption; but practically this is not true. New knowledge and
skill take time to sink and this time period is what is meant by
attention span, giving a breather to individuals to understand
new ways and means. By training and development of
employees, organizations cope with these developments. But
to assume that there is no GAP in time before new
technologies are absorbed is incorrect. Digital technologies
and the younger generation try to absorb the changes by visual
and graphical modes of speed training
RECOMMENDATION
We need to recognize that ‗change is the only constant in
Business‘. The success of any business will depend on the
speed with which they recognize the need and adopt change.
The concept of attention span is not for the psychologists alone
to understand, but for all of us as business managers as well. In
fact organizations, instead of deliberating on whether there is
reduction or increase in attention spans due to new
Technologies, must get on with the fulfillment off their
organizational purposes through training and re-training of
employees. As mentioned in the review literature, this has to
be done by adopting new methods for training that may
involve shorter attention spans, but very effective means to
achieve organizational results.
Marketers will have to contend with the reality of shrinking
attention spans to modify and adjust their product campaigns
and promotions. This is very nicely depicted in the figure 7
given below:
Figure 7: How marketers contend with the attention span
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[29] http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00985.x
... However, it is a tool for rapidly spreading knowledge and its reach is hard to ignore in current society. Social media has evolved our consumption of both information and entertainment; it has also changed our preferences on how to consume new information (Subramanian, 2018). The use of social media provides the greatest opportunity to distribute research findings to a wide audience and to affect social discourse both positively and negatively. ...
... However, it is a tool for rapidly spreading knowledge and its reach is hard to ignore in current society. Social media has evolved our consumption of both information and entertainment; it has also changed our preferences on how to consume new information (Subramanian, 2018). The use of social media provides the greatest opportunity to distribute research findings to a wide audience and to affect social discourse both positively and negatively. ...
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Teaching in the University: Learning from Graduate Students and Early Career Faculty provides insight and strategies for successful teaching, advising, and mentoring postsecondary students. In particular, the authors offer support and encouragement for implementing student-centered teaching practices relevant to college classrooms. This book is designed for new university teaching faculty and graduate teaching assistants looking for innovative teaching resources.
... Minute after minute, the average attention span of an individual curtails significantly as the 'mobile culture' comes into play, creating a setup in which someone skims and jumps from one information to another (Subramanian, 2018). With the fast-paced nature of online communication, the "new technological capabilities and platform affordances" has paved way for the emergence of the visual social media (Highfield & Leaver, 2016). ...
Preprint
With the rise of the visual turn, the use of GIFs and reaction images have been prevalent in social media, most specifically Twitter. With this, the purpose of the paper was to prove that non-textual tools could also serve a sociolinguistic function in the online realm especially in the elevation of sociopolitical discourse. Using Halliday's theory of Systemic-Functional Linguistics (SFL), this paper has proven that the perception of Filipino college students active on Twitter is that the employment of these visual tools in sociopolitical discourse help in the elevation of discourse, and that they themselves have become the sociopolitical discourse. However, there are certain limitations which might hinder both the sender and the receiver in engaging into discourse, such as lack of clarification from the side of the sender and/or the inclination of misinterpretation from the side of the receiver. The use of visual argument as a conceptual basis helps in determining the nature of sociopolitical discourse in the field of argumentation that GIF and reaction image poses, thereby setting the parameters as to what constitutes an effective GIF and reaction image in discourse elevation. This would include subtexts which would further explain why the GIF or reaction image in question is being sent to the receiver, or the willingness of the sender or the receiver to continue the discourse rather than merely rely on the visual tools to speak or argue for themselves.
... Distance learning was assessed by most respondents as less inclusive with a lower level of attention than usual. Although the research on attention span and DL is still under examination [56][57][58], it has been reported that multitasking (here defined as the ability to surf the internet and social media while in DL) has a direct effect on attention span [59] and can contribute to diminishing students' experience. The use of social media during DL requires further investigation, as uncontrolled usage of social apps can indeed produce the phenomenon of addiction, a decrement in social skills, and mental health disorders [60][61][62][63]. ...
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... Through the fast pace of digitalization, with smartphones buzzing with notifications, social media being the main source of news and hyperlinks in the middle of every text we read, our brains are trying their best to adjust to this consistently-connected world. Researchers today claim to have found noticeable changes over time in how we direct our attention (Lorenz-Spreen et al., 2019, Firth et al., 2019, Greenfield, 2018 due to media habits, though the question around our shrinking attention span has been a deep concern amongst scientists and researchers for a long time (Subramanian, 2018). Due to the media landscape, only in the past few years, there has been more complex research done on the subject of digital media multitasking. ...
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the development of a mangrove ecology self-learning application integrates the advantages of mobile-based learning and the benefits of micro-learning into the virtual learning of mangrove ecology. The system was designed based on a case study in the Leeled mangrove forest, Thailand and encour-ages young learners to understand the value of mangrove forests, and to help to preserve them. The system developed uses a virtual learning environment and accommodates young learner’s behaviours, favouring micro-learning with the content organized into the learning units which take a maximum of 15 minutes to complete. The application therefore allows the learning to be integrated into the learners’ daily activities and can contribute to their life-long learning. It allows learners to conduct self-learning and gain experience from performance in a virtual environment which simulates a real mangrove forest. This approach is better suited to the needs of present day young peo-ple than traditional approaches to environmental education.
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