Attention Span: The Strange Paradox

eLearning In The Time Of Attention Span Problems

For a long time, we have been told the story of the diminishing attention span of learners across ages, the famous goldfish experiment, the associated findings, and how learning designers should focus on creating highly engaging learning content. Now some questions:

  • Game of Thrones—the show—how many seasons and how many episodes?
  • Classic sitcoms, like Friends and Seinfeld—how many seasons and how many episodes?

These are just two examples from a world of entertainment that has been completely turned on its head by OTT/streaming platforms competing with each other to create new content or to bring popular television shows from another era onto their streaming service. Terms like “binge watch”, “stream party”, etc., are of recent origin, fueled by the popularity of shows that cater to the demands of viewers. There has been a renewed push in sourcing and creating location-specific content by the two major streaming players, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, who are focused on emerging markets and getting new content in local/regional languages.

Diminishing Attention Spas

Now let us get back to the key topic of “diminishing attention spans.” If it was really such a huge problem, then how does one explain the willingness of people to spend so much time on movies or entertainment shows? Or those who love reading books in their free time: how do people have the patience to sit and finish a normal trade paperback in a sitting or two? Why does the diminishing attention span not come into play in such scenarios? We can only assume that when people enjoy the task they are doing, they are less bothered about time, and they are able to spend their leisure time in enjoying reading, watching movies, gardening, or any other hobby that they love.

An Interesting Conclusion

So, the key understanding is that if it is something good and interesting then the individual is able to dedicate their undivided attention to it. This makes us come to another interesting conclusion: “Most of the eLearning solutions that are available in the market as a catalog course are boring or not catering to the attention spans of all users/learners.” Then, as eLearning developers/designers, how do we make modern eLearning interesting and engaging so that the learner is not bored and does not mechanically keep clicking the “next” button, without actually learning anything?

Making eLearning Engaging To Counteract Attention Span Issues

There are hundreds of articles on different websites with ideas on how to make eLearning engaging and better. Now the point to wonder is that if, with this as a core topic, these articles continue to be written, and flagship events by a consortium of popular eLearning vendors and training and development are conducted regularly, then why do most major eLearning modules not match the requirements? Why do organizations keep scurrying back and forth with multiple vendors to get something relevant and proper? These are some questions that we need to ask ourselves as eLearning firms of repute.

There is no magic switch that transforms regular PowerPoint-based training content into an engaging eLearning course. Time, effort, and money, and a lot of careful planning and strategizing, goes into creating one hour of proper, audience-specific eLearning content. There are multiple stages and factors involved in the eLearning process. I am sure that most readers are well aware of the different stages of an eLearning project, and I am not going to bore you by repeating the same here. The focus is on how we can make eLearning better and more effective!

Microlearning

We are strongly vocal about our love for all things microlearning. We have helped several of our esteemed clients use microlearning to simplify longer and complex training modules and present their employees with bite-sized learning modules. What is important to note is that microlearning need not always work as the best solution for all scenarios. But it would definitely be good if more organizations explored the use of microlearning to simplify their eLearning solutions. Anything that ranges from a couple of minutes to about ten minutes would easily fall in the ambit of microlearning. Ideally, five minutes is the sweet spot, and it definitely does not tax the learners’ attentiveness too much. Some tips to follow:

  • Tell the learner upfront what they are going to learn.
  • Use age-appropriate and audience-appropriate content (visuals and words).
  • Don’t dump everything into the five to ten minutes of the running time of the microlearning unit.
  • Sequence and structure content to form a longer module with interlinked units of microlearning.
  • Give learners the flexibility to choose their units and learn the units that they want. (This is based on the organization’s requirements and may not always work.)
  • User Experience and learner experience are the two important elements that need to be met! Don’t compromise on them.

We have observed that even average content can be elevated with great design aesthetics and a fantastic user experience for the learners, though the converse may not always hold true. You can have the best content, but if you are not able to package and present it properly, then you are going to lose the attention-span game.

Videos

YouTube is the single biggest learning resource available for users of the internet. Though the ads have now become really tiresome, if you can pay for a premium account and skip the ads, then there’s nothing quite like it for enjoying the whole world of videos that come to you. Official YouTube channels of universities, Khan Academy, and individuals who love to share knowledge have democratized the process of learning. But YouTube has also become a hub of misinformation. So, learners need to use their discretion and find the right channels. Incorporate videos in your eLearning solutions. It could be SMEs speaking on a topic, or a simple animated explainer video. A well-made video will definitely catch the attention of learners and increase the retention of knowledge.

Conclusion

Let us not bring the poor goldfish into the picture every time we talk about attention spans. We, as eLearning experts, need to look into our design and content philosophy and come up with digital learning solutions that resonate with the learners. If you have any inputs or suggestions on how you or your organization are addressing the problem of diminishing attention spans, do add your valuable comments below.

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