Keeping Today’s Learners Interested

Posted: 28/03/2017

By Brett Lyons

How to train people with short attention spans.

When I say 'people with short attention spans', I'm not just talking about the people in your office who get easily distracted. Human attention spans are getting shorter. In fact, a recent Microsoft study found that human attention spans are now less than a goldfish. 

In 2000, the average attention span was 12 seconds. This has since fallen to 8 seconds. Goldfish have a memory of 9 seconds.

That’s right: the old insult ‘you’ve got a memory like a goldfish!’ is actually a compliment.

People are now struggling to focus in environments where prolonged attention is necessary. If our attention spans are now so short, how can we learn new skills? How are we expected to retain new information? How can teams develop?

Half of the solution is in breaking it down into tiny pieces. Now more than ever, learning needs to be delivered in a punchy and interactive way to keep people engaged. Otherwise, learners will be totally overloaded, nothing will sink in, and a whole lot of money, time and energy will be wasted in the process.

Digital lifestyles

Scientists attribute this shift to our increased use of smartphones, and widespread adoption of a ‘digital lifestyle’. It’s no surprise then that the same study found that our ability to multitask has drastically improved. We’re used to having several digital conversations at once, switching between emails and internet pages on a daily basis and checking our phones or social media whilst watching television.

What’s happened is that our minds now quickly filter what information is relevant to us, and we only engage our memories when we have decided what we want to focus on.

Therefore, when it comes to training, people need to immediately recognise the relevance and results of everything they do. Learning needs to be implemented immediately, with feedback readily available.

When the digital world makes everything so personalised, customised and immediate, learners need to see direct relevance. With training, they need to know how the new skillsets will improve their performance and why they should bother investing their time and attention in training when there are hundreds of other things that they need to do.

Making the most of the time you have

We have to work with what we’ve got, and tailor training to suit the modern-day digital worker. In short – the training industry must evolve alongside humans. Organisations must be aware of these changes in order to help their teams develop. Managers and trainers are now racing learners’ attention spans, and need to find stimulating training methods that can be delivered in short bursts that encourage active participation.

The key is to not allow the opportunity for learners to lose attention. Quizzes, assignments and eLearning modules are the best for this. With these, learners gain knowledge more effectively because they’re interacting with the information and are active, engaged participants in the process. They are not passive, and they don’t have the opportunity to switch off as they would in a classroom setting.

Immediate feedback is not only gratifying and rewards attention, it allows learners to learn from their mistakes the moment they occur and can see the direct consequences of an error; not only is this engaging, but it speeds up the learning process and allows participants to practice new skills in a safe environment. This in itself builds confidence, which is also key to developing new skills.

Learning when its needed

The most beneficial thing about short, online eLearning modules is that they can easily be revisited again and again, whenever you feel like you need a reminder or a top-up. You can run through modules in the car on the way to a meeting, or on your lunch break. This kind of repetition embeds information, and the easy access to the modules allows you to keep important points at the top of your memory.

Furthermore, eLearning modules take less time out of the working day.

It's important to make sure training is suited to the lifestyle and learning style of the people it's for. Traditional learning in classroom settings has its uses, but it also has its limits. It is best used as a foundation that is backed up by eLearning activity. With eLearning modules, anyone can learn new skills, anywhere, regardless of their attention span.

Here are some other TLSA blogs you might like:



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Brett Lyons

Brett Lyons is an international leadership consultant who has converted 35 years of sales experience into a range of eLearning tools that deliver real-world results. He is a training expert who specialises in coaching motivated leaders to drive their teams to success.