In an age of instant information, time-poor professionals are increasingly less attuned to spending long periods of time learning. Some statistics point to an alarmingly low learner attention spans. This includes a much-quoted figure suggesting that humans now fall behind goldfish in their ability to focus, only being able to truly zone in for a miniscule eight seconds.
How to improve dwindling learner attention spans
Sensational headlines aside, the truth is that the capacity people show for concentration actually depends, understandably, more on the presentation and usefulness of the information they are being given. The human brain is highly adaptable – and while it’s inevitable that some employees will be naturally more predisposed than others to paying proper attention, there are several straightforward steps you can take to ensure your messages get through and you hold your learner attention spans.
1) Keep it short and succinct
Good writing helps information to stay top of the mind, holding learners’ attention span. According to a 2009 study by the American Press Institute, readers typically understand all of a sentence when it is fewer than eight words in length, and 90% when it stays under 14 words. Conversely, a hefty 43-word sentence results in less than 10% of the information hitting home.
Make sure each word in the learning material counts: brevity is vital, but it isn’t always easy. Try to avoid presenting your information in a manner which is too high-brow or dumbed-down. Instead, strive to make it accessible and relevant, with real-life scenarios which give users a clear concept and allow them to draw upon their own experiences. Equally, keep the time of each lesson to a minimum, giving your learners every chance to really focus – in one study, Waight and Stewart (2005) suggested keeping the length of learning modules at about 15 minutes.
2) Pull them in
People are more likely to be distracted when they feel like they are playing a passive part in learning, so it makes sense to give them incentives to learn and make them feel involved in the design process. This could be done through a fun activity, such as a quiz in which they have to solve puzzles to pass through stages of learning, or by giving users a break to interact with content or a virtual classroom every three or four screens. Accreditation or recognised qualifications can also be a powerful motivator to encourage users to seek more information and progress through the challenges of learning.
3) A matter of convenience
Giving your learners the time and space to take in information when it suits them can be a highly valuable approach for everyone. This is increasingly easy to arrange creatively: for example, you could invite them to connect with chunks of information by using a QR scanner code on their smartphone, or by watching videos, demonstrations and scenarios online.
Well-designed infographics and great visuals and animations can also play their part here, holding your learners’ attention span rather than simply leading them to blocks of text. Consider providing a variety of ways for them to take the first steps and enhance their learning: podcasts, simulations and games can all be effective.
4) Microlearning magic
One study of team excellence found that, although adults can choose to “reset” their attention span, it tends to drop significantly after around 20 minutes. That’s why it’s important to divide learning into easily digestible chunks and perfect the art of providing comprehensive training without the kind of overload which causes attention spans to wander. Helpfully, the availability of mobile learning and the variety of ways in which information can be provided makes it easy to organise learning into short sections of around three to five minutes, known as microlearning, which employees can return to when they need them.
With an authoring tool, you can update this information in minutes, allowing you to ensure the materials are up to date and remain fresh and inspiring enough to hold your learner attention spans. Subtle gamification and clever use of social platforms such as Facebook can also help users feel involved and motivated rather than constrained by time.
5) Banish the barriers
Put faith in your audience by signposting them to extra information, such as a manual or learning portal, if and when they need it. Try not to bombard them with information that they may not need or may already know. Create an interface where they can easily find what they want and gain skills without having to read through and answer questions about topics they already feel well-versed in.
All users, regardless of their individual attention span, will feel put off by elearning if they sense their time is being wasted or too much is being asked of them. When your audience values your learning, the time and attention they put in will seem like a sound investment.
If you’d like to speak to a LEO Learning consultant about increasing learner attention spans and creating effective training, get in touch today.