I have long argued that what matters, really, is not the time constraints in life, but our attention constraints. When I joined Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), I was dismayed to find that I had to fill out a time sheet every week. I was in the “think tank” – it really did not matter what I was doing with my time, what mattered was what new ideas I was coming up with. But there was a certain outmoded logic to the strategy arm of an accounting firm wanting me to account for my time. One of the reasons I wrote the book, The Attention Economy, while at Accenture, was my pique at the notion that we as a society had not yet learned how to pay attention to attention rather than time.
Yet in an ironic twist, in our Interactive Learning eXperiences (I-L-X), everything ends up being timed. This is a forcing mechanism. When my kids were in early elementary school, they had the leisure to explore every nook and cranny of every location in every videogame they played. As high-schoolers, the emphasis became efficiency – getting through to the next level in the least amount of time. They had to be smart about what they paid attention to on each level. Many stones were left unturned.
And this was when I realized what a useful forcing function time can be for our attention. In our I-L-X, players can and do “time out” and have to start over. We know that after a certain amount of time, attention naturally wanes; we stop learning when our brains are tired. So learning in short bursts of concentrated attention followed by time to rest and build new synapses is the key to learning in I-L-X.
Not only is it hard to take time out of the learning equation, but based on our experiences in building and testing Interactive Learning eXperiences, we have come to realize that time adds a valuable constraint for focusing the right kinds of attention on the right things.