A series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 60’s brought young children into private rooms and sat them down in front of a marshmallow. Researchers offered the children a deal: they could have one marshmallow straight away, or they could wait a certain time and then have two. You can watch a re-enactment of the experiment below.
The children were then followed periodically throughout their lives — the group who waited patiently for the second marshmallow succeeded in whatever capacity they were measuring at the time, lending evidence to the fact that being able to delay one’s gratification can have a significant impact on future success. With the ubiquity of the web demanding a personal level of comfort with distraction and an ability of manage cognitive load, I wonder about the effects of social media in schools.
When we talk of blocking social media I fear that what we are actually doing is denying students the ability to develop the willpower to delay gratification. I’m not a social media evangelist. I hardly use Facebook but the reality is that these platforms are de-facto extensions of our collective identities and demand our attention. Many schools have in their vision statements something about personalized learning or having students take greater responsibility for their own learning. In the case of Facebook (or any other social media platform), students need to be able to learn how to manage their attention and I think that the best place to do this is under the guidance of their most readily available mentor – their teacher.