The Key to Overcoming Minuscule Attention Spans When Training Employees

If you think your employees have a dwindling attention span, you’re probably right. But don’t be so quick to judge, because it’s not just your employees suffering from this problem.

The Key to Overcoming Minuscule Attention Spans When Training Employees

Consider these facts, cited by the Statistic Brain Research Institute:

  • The average attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds. Now in 2015 that has dropped down to 8.25 seconds.
  • Compare that 2015 figure to this: the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds. That means humans, on average, actually have a shorter attention span than a goldfish.
  • The percent of teenagers who forget major details about their close friends and relatives is 25%.
  • The average length of an internet video is 2.7 minutes.
  • Only 17% of internet page views last more than 4 seconds and that number drops down to 4% for views lasting more than 10 minutes.
  • 49% of words are read on web pages that have 111 or fewer words. Only 28% of words are read on web pages with 593 words.

Research conducted in 2009 by Dianne Dukette and David Cornish showed that you have about 20 minutes’ of sustained attention from the average adult, and in terms of short-term response to a stimulus, you have eight seconds to gain their attention. If you can’t garner initial attention in eight seconds, your audience is lost. If you present information to them that lasts more than 20 minutes, it’s futile.

The limited range of the human attention span is something that’s been understood by Hollywood for quite some time, which is why films are shot in particular ways, where frames only last a certain amount of time. The camera angle changes frequently to reflect the viewer’s natural attention span.

Humans inherently have short attention spans, but it’s dwindled in recent decades even further because of the growth of technology and busier schedules. Your employees are constantly inundated with advertisements, visual stimuli, emails, communication via tablets and smartphones, and they’re expected to pack more into a day than ever before.

This short and diverted attention span is one of the biggest hurdles employers have to overcome not only when managing employees, but more specifically when creating training that will resonate and be effective.

Steve Dahill recently wrote a piece for LinkedIn, where he explored this ever-shrinking attention span and how it impacts the business world.

Dahill said the following:

Society is shifting towards a culture of ‘hyper attention’, resulting in a loss in productivity driving a $1.3 trillion loss to the economy. In order to solve this, Microlearning is the answer. Small, bite-size lessons solve for dwindling attention spans while serving learners and trainers better than traditional learning in a variety of ways.

This challenge is addressed in a multi-layer way. The first is to look at the eight-second rule: how do you capture your employees’ attention within eight seconds?

Then, the next level of the challenge is to determine how to best keep their attention during your allotted 20-minute time frame.

Grabbing Employees’ Attention

Grabbing Employees’ Attention

  • Be Novel: The human brain is automatically attracted to something that feels new. Carefully consider things like module titles and headlines in your e-learning and try to use these areas to introduce things your employees haven’t heard before, or at least think they haven’t. One way to do this is to incorporate newly uncovered data or current events into your e-Learning.
  • Clean up your content. Your employees are going to make a snap judgement as to how they feel about training within about a second. If they look at a screen and it looks cluttered, clunky or confusing, that judgement is already made and there’s not a lot of you can do about it. To gain more insight into snap judgements regarding your e-Learning, hold focus groups before you implement a new training course. Get real, honest feedback just about that first-second impression.
  • Evoke emotionality and a sense of surprise. This is tricky, but if you can create suspense or trigger an emotional response right out of the gate, your employees are likely to give more attention to the e-Learning at hand.

Designing Effective Microlearning

Once you have the attention of your employees, it’s up to you to keep it for as long as possible, with the goal being about 20 minutes.

The number one tip to do this is to break content up into small, digestible chunks. Also called microlearning, this approach is one of the biggest trends in the e-learning and training industries right now.

One way to create microlearning is simply going through your training content and cutting out the unnecessary information or the “noise” that makes it feel cluttered. If you’ve already done that and removed as much as you can without taking value from the content, your next step may be to break up a long course into shorter segments. If you can create modules that take about 8-10 minutes at a time, learners are likely to get the most impact.

Put the most important information first. No matter what you do, in some circumstances your learners are simply going to lose steam as the approach the end of a course, so make sure the most salient points are always listed at the start.

Insert micro-assessments after every few screens and let employees know they’ll be expected to participate in quizzes. If your employees know they’re going to be tested on the information it’s a driving force to keep them interested, and it also stimulates them in a different way as they’re proceeding through a course.

Let employees know up front how long a course is expected to take and what they’ll be learning. This will help focus their attention and they won’t be left wondering what they’re supposed to take away or how long it will end up taking, because they’ve already been given that information.

Try to change it up and provide a new stimulus every eight seconds or so. There are a number of ways to do this, including by creating contrasting text, adding videos, including graphics or implementing narration. By diversifying how information is presented,  learners are more likely to remain engaged.

Finally, if something can be said with an image, don’t try to say it with text. Any time an image will effectively convey a point or concept, let it do just that.

How do you find ways to work creatively with employees with short attention spans, particularly when it comes to training?

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