The 10–Minute Learning Rule

brain and nervous system wireframe hologram simulation node with lighting on blue background.

As we have discovered how the brain works, we recognize it has a very limited attention span. In the world of education there is an understanding that taking brain breaks does help students stay focused and learn more effectively. The debate is over how long that takes. Some say that the brain changes every 10 minutes and some research concludes that it can be longer before there needs to be a change in how we approach teaching and learning.

In a recent article published in Learning and the Brain, author Andrew Watson discusses this issue and offers a book on the topic. Here are some excerpts from this article:

If you’re reading this blog, you want your teaching to have research behind it. So, what exactly is the research behind the “10-minute rule?”

Neil Bradbury is glad you asked. He looked into its history, and came up with some astonishing results: results that would be funny if they weren’t so alarming.

Let’s start with a Johnstone and Percival study from 1976, where two researchers visited 90 lecture classes (!). By comparing observations, they agreed that attention started to wane within the first five minutes (!!), with another decrease in the 10-18 minute range (!!!).

As Bradbury reports, however, this conclusion gets murky quickly:

First: they visited only 13% of those lectures together. In other words: 87% of their data come from one lone observer.

Second: they don’t report how they measured attention, or — for that matter — lapses in attention.

Young dreamy thoughtful student looking away working on laptop in office coworking space classroom. Hispanic student using computer for remote learning online training.

That student looking out the window: is she distracted by a bird, or concentrating on the professor’s complex argument?

That student looking keenly at the slides: is he engrossed in the topic, or trying to remember his lines for tonight’s rehearsal?

Johnstone and Percival have no way to know.

In other words: the “10-minute rule” rests on the hunchy sense of two visitors who were — as far as we can tell — simply relying on their guts. Whatever we call that, we don’t call it “research.”

And, whatever we do with their hunches, we shouldn’t change our teaching because of them.

You will find a reference to a book on this topic in the linked article which may provide additional help as to how a teacher could adapt their classroom to have a more effective approach for the students that they are helping to learn. It sounds most helpful and hopeful.

Gerry Vassar


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