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Concentration in a Disperse World: Shallow and Deep Works

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Ronaldo Mota: Chancellor Estácio Group

We have never experienced the dispersive environments that characterize contemporary societies. Neither had we experienced the levels of radicalism and speed of the changes underway in our times. The world of work and of new business opportunities have never been so complex in nature. Progressively, we will have to develop tasks immersed in environments highly prone to dispersion. Learning to deal with this fact is an unprecedented educational task.

Elements of the prevailing learning process, including memory, simple domains of techniques and procedures, discipline, and ability to develop predetermined routines and missions, become irrelevant in some cases or insufficient in others. In turn, items that used to be overlooked or even considered, such as an emphasis on ability to focus, self-knowledge about how to learn, ability to work in teams and ease of adaptation to new contexts and challenges, become central and strategic . The first set of characteristics, described above, refers to the educational demands associated with the so-called “shallow work”, and the second group to the so-called “deep works” according to the terminology adopted by Carl Newport, author of Deep work, 2016.

There are many tasks that do not require focus and do not involve more complex cognitive processes, and can be developed in low concentration environments. Part of the trades that thrived the most in the twentieth century had those characteristics. The professions associated with those tasks will not have any space in the future that has already begun. That is, anything that resembles routine and can be easily replicated, subject to simple algorithms, has its days counted. Immersed in the universe of artificial intelligence and learning machines, today’s jobs and activities will be even more affected and the process will be very fast, extremely painful and, indeed, irreversible.

The conflict is not about adopting innovative technologies, especially digital ones. It is a question of how to use them without losing focus, specially since virtual environments are the main source of such distractions. The ability to perform activities that demand effective concentration is becoming very rare, just at a time when this characteristic are becoming more valued. Anyone who cultivates the ability to maintain the right focus will certainly be able to successfully face new challenges and will be rewarded for that. Those unable to maintain proper concentration will pay high prices, whether working in less valued sectors or becoming unemployed.

As to how to educate in this unprecedented environment there are no simple recipes, nor any that will always work. We are moving towards personalized education, customized to the peculiarities of each student and to the specific characteristics of the educational context. The digital technologies allow, in theory, to know more about the student and the learning environment, contributing to provide learning paths appropriate to each condition and for each specific purpose.

Cognition, in a general and simplified definition, refers to the processes associated with the acquisition of knowledge. Metacognition refers to what transcends cognition, where as important as what is known is a reflection on the part of the learner about learning itself. That is, the conscious practice of learning to learn, awakening the learner’s perception of how one learns. When prioritizing metacognition, the importance of concentration during the learning process is evidenced as essential. In other words, if cognition was sufficient for shallow offices, metacognition, in addition, is indispensable in the preparation of the contemporary professional for deep works.