Mind Wandering and Self-directed Learning: Testing the Efficacy of Self-Regulation Interventions to Reduce Mind Wandering and Enhance Online Training
Randall, Jason Gilbert
Villado, Anton J.
Doctor of Philosophy
Mind wandering, or the direction of attention away from a primary task, has been shown to harm primary task performance, including learning, and to negatively influence individual affect and mood. Mind wandering poses a significant threat in modern training that often occurs in self-directed online formats, and is therefore particularly susceptible to variability in individual attention. There are three major hypotheses as to why the mind wanders: the current concerns, executive failure, and meta-awareness accounts. In order to encourage on-task focus in a self-directed, online training environment, and to test the efficacy of these three competing hypotheses as to why the mind wanders, I designed three interventions that taught different self-regulatory skills in order to combat mind wandering during training. Adult participants were recruited online and were randomly assigned to complete one of the three experimental interventions prior to training, or a control intervention that taught principles of internet safety. All participants then completed a three-hour Excel training program online, intermittently reporting their degree of on- and off-task attention. Pre- and post-training assessments of learning and affect, as well as mind wandering rates were compared between the four groups to determine whether the self-regulatory interventions were effective in decreasing mind wandering and benefiting training outcomes. Overall, the results suggest that mind wandering is associated with lower trainee reactions (affective and utility) and decreased mood valence. For only the executive failure condition was mind wandering also associated with knowledge and performance learning impairments. There were few differences between the control and experimental conditions and few differences among the experimental conditions. The data did support the idea that increased engagement in several self-regulatory behaviors decreased mind wandering, although the practice of these self-regulatory skills primarily did not depend on condition. Thus, claims of the relative effectiveness of the three hypotheses as to why the mind wanders are limited. Nonetheless, the results of this study inform individuals and organizations in the development and application of countermeasures to reduce mind wandering and enhance performance in self-directed learning environments. The findings also help integrate related theories of mind wandering, mindfulness, self-regulation, and learning.