Is Learner Inattention a Cause for Concern?
You are bound to have read enough sensationalized articles in recent years about how the attention span of a human is steadily diminishing in today’s digital age. Much of the hype regarding this topic was caused by a 2015 study[i] attributed to a multinational corporation that supposedly reported that the average human attention span was down to a mere eight seconds!
Although this revelation has been questioned[ii] and debated[iii] by many since, it did make some marketers, educators and content creators sit up and take notice. If people were losing interest so quickly, what was the point of spending thousands of dollars, time and effort to create long form content and conduct hour/s long training sessions?
The reality of the situation may not be as dire as everybody was led to believe. It is hard to generalize and throw a blanket over ‘human attention span’ and give it an average time limit, as there are many variables that affect an individual’s ability to concentrate.
What do we really know about people’s ability to pay attention?
An interesting study[iv] (2010) on inattention amongst students suggests that student attention alternates in short cycles between being engaged and non-engaged during a lecture, with some students reporting lapses of attention 30 seconds after a class began, and some reporting lapses approximately four-and-a-half minutes into a lecture.
Video creation statistics for 2019 shared by Rocketium Academy[v] indicate that 95% of users believe a video should be less than two minutes long. Additionally, stats also show that 65% of video viewers stop watching after two minutes.
There is no running away from the fact that forcing learners to sit in a classroom for an hour or longer is a waste of time and resources, as it is unlikely that they will retain any of the information due to inattention.
If you think you are being more progressive by creating interactive video content, you are definitely on the right path. However, if your learning videos are 20–30 minutes long, they may be as ineffective as making learners sit in a classroom for hours on end.
How do you create a more successful learning experience?
It is imperative to strike a balance between impactful learning content and a concise approach in order to ensure that learners make the most of the learning experience. One of the ideal ways to do this is through digital microlearning.
The goal of digital microlearning is to allow learners to easily consume and digest new information as and when they need it. While microlearning will not completely replace your in-depth and creative e-learning content, it is a smart, concise and effective way to combat inattention and help learners consume information faster, for better retention.
Microlearning can be implemented in the form of:
· Short instructional videos
· Digital flashcards
· Nuggets of information sent via email or text
· Interactive learning games
· Study guides
Here are some tips to help you get started
Learner objective — have a clear learner objective before you create your microlearning asset. Determine what you are trying to achieve and how you are going to impact learners with this asset. Don’t try to cover an entire subject, instead, focus on one specific area.
Focus on learner needs — the purpose of a microlearning asset is to allow learners to consume relevant information quickly so that they can get back to work faster. Constantly ask yourself if the material you are creating is useful for the learner and if it is easily digestible.
Short and simple — each session should require little effort on the part of the learner, and it should be short and to the point. Ideally the session should not take longer than 5–10 minutes to complete.
Video — we don’t need to explain why video is a strong medium in today’s world. It works well as a tool for microlearning as it is quick to consume and easy to digest.
[iv] Bunce, D.M., Flens, E.A., and Neiles, K.Y. (2010). How long can students pay attention in class? A study of student attention decline using clickers. Journal of Chemical Education