Is anything known how effective is "non-focused" learning. For example when I am focused on something else (watching TV, doing work in the office) while listening to language learning material (words and phrases and their translations for example). Or playing scales on your guitar while watching TV (okay, seem to be more invovled then merely listening, but I guess you get the idea).

So is there anything known about that, or any studies on that?

EDIT: I do not have found any studies, mainly because I do not know what to search for, googling terms like "non-focused learning", "passive learning", "distractive learning" do not give anything useful. I have a minor in psychology and if I see a study I can relate it to what I am looking for, but I am not a researcher in psychology. So this question came up out of curiosity of my own (and to be honest, its quite practical if possible to learn something by "not even trying" to say in lax language). I know about the 10k rule of expertise, and they always talk about "deliberate practice", obviously the kind of practice I am looking for is not deliberate, but maybe someone asked if its still beneficial, even if on a much smaller scale. I would suspect that it is not difficult to design studies for it, just let people perform some task, tell them its the main task, then do some distraction in the background (which is the supposed learning content, melodies, words whatever). Then afterwards (obviously to the surprise of the subject) ask question about that your let it perform a task to access gained knowledge.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Psychology.SE! Please take the tour and read the help center. What books have you read, or internet searching have you tried to answer your question? Please help us to help you and edit your question to provide more information on what you have read on this subject, what made you are ask this question, and any problems you are having understanding your research. If you need help, you can view our How to Ask page. Thanks $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Sep 19 '18 at 14:07
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisRogers I added some text to what I tried. $\endgroup$ – StefanH Sep 19 '18 at 14:17

I think this is a somewhat controversial area of research. On one hand

Participants were asked to predict the weather after receiving a repeated set of cues. During part of the learning, researchers added a second task where participants had to keep a running mental count of high tones that they heard, thus adding an element of distraction.

The results showed that when doing single-task learning, the brain used the region associated with declarative memory, while the habit memory region was associated with dual-task learning.

The dual-task learning did not affect the participants' ability to predict weather at the time, but it reduced their knowledge about the task during a follow-up session later.

On the other:

Psychologists know that the things we learn in one context might not be remembered in another. Famously, investigators once showed that words learned while scuba diving are easier to recall underwater than on dry land. Now Brown University psychologists suggest something similar happens with distraction. The researchers trained 48 people to hit a computer-screen target using a wonky touch pad—tracing up, for example, might move the cursor diagonally—and later evaluated them on their ability to quickly hit the mark. During both training and the test, participants were randomly selected to do a distracting second task: counting letters on a screen. Those distracted during just one phase performed poorly when tested, but those who had done the letter-counting task during both training and testing performed just as well as those who had trained and been tested without distractions, according to the results published in February in Psychological Science.

The consensus remains that distraction is typically bad for learning, the scientists explain. But if you anticipate a distracting testing or performance environment, try to mimic those distractions as you study or practice to avoid being caught off guard.

So distractors are generally bad, but not always.

There's even more controversy whether background music helps or doesn't with school activities or learning other stuff.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice last remark with the music, not quite related in the sense that music is a stimulus but not some content that is supposed to be learned. Anyway, reminds me that from my perspective music helps me to stay focused (most time for learning the calm and chilly music), but on the other side as I got into music recently when I put on music for learning or working it sometimes triggeres an urge to play along with my instrument, which of course is not what I wanted to achieve when I have to finish something else. $\endgroup$ – StefanH Sep 20 '18 at 11:22

In the past, I have ran into something similar while just looking for self help links related to attention deficit disorder. While I am unable to find the exact explanation I saw, I believe it was related to split-attention or selective attention. The bit I saw described the mechanisms in the brain involved in filtering information. While attempting to relocate what I had seen previously, I found an article that might be related to your inquiry: The role of selective attention on academic foundations: A cognitive neuroscience perspective


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