Ever been involved in a virtual synchronous event with a really engaging side discussion going on? I’m thinking here of an electronic side discussion, like through the meeting tool’s chat interface, but in reality it could be a separate tool, like Twitter, or even live with other people in the same room as you.
During our training webcasts we have the chat function generally disabled, except for sending questions to the moderator. For good reason–it’s distracting! Every moment a learner is engaged in a side conversation, he or she is not paying attention to the instructor. Our brains simply cannot handle more than one source of language input at a time.
And yet, a good, on-topic side conversation can carry a certain energy and stimulation that can spill over to the main event. The questions on my mind: Under what circumstances is an engaging side conversation a net positive? When should they be cultivated, and when should they be suppressed? Can they be structured and encouraged for advanced learners with distracting novices? Can they be saved for later as a resource?