What Has Shrunk by a Third in 20 Years?

What Has Shrunk by a Third in 20 Years?

You can probably think of all sorts of things that might qualify. The length of a Curly Wurly? The diameter of a 10 pence piece? Definitely, a Toblerone, which now resembles some sort of confectionary bike rack rather than a majestic mountain range.

But what we’re talking about here is our attention span, that length of time when we really give something our full and undivided focus. Research from Microsoft tells us that at the start of the millennium, the average attention span was 12 seconds, and now it’s a paltry 8.25 seconds.

A shorter attention span doesn’t necessarily equate to a worse one though. It’s surely a factor of how we receive information in today’s world. With instant internet access at our fingertips and a growing dependency on mobile devices, we have all become accustomed to receiving information in a steady, almost constant flow, regardless of time or place. Instead of a long telephone call, we knock off a quick text. And the recipient doesn’t need that leisurely 12 seconds to read it; it can be easily absorbed in 8!

There’s no going back either. If the way we receive information is impacting on the length of time we can focus, we believe that in turn, to be noticed, we need to look at how to present knowledge in new and easily digestible ways.

Video learning is perfect for short attention spans

Like any other communication, video learning must fight for mind share in a busy information superhighway. How can it attract the learner’s attention, when they are free to access data as and when they want to and be influenced by all the distractions that content on our devices provide?

The good news is that research from Boston Digital shows that viewers retain 95% of a video-based message, compared to 10% when the same message is delivered in writing. And video excels as a tool for eLearning for today’s students who expect information to be available in formats that are quickly accessed and easily absorbed.

Here are some key reasons why this way of learning is advantageous for our short attention spans:

Available on demand

Once a course is loaded to the internet, the content is there ready to be accessed at any time and in any place with an internet connection. This gives participants a high level of flexibility that they just wouldn’t get in a physical environment. This is particularly important for adult learners who will have jobs, homes, children, pets, and many other calls on their times, around which they need to structure their learning.

Deliverable in bite-sized chunks

Go on a course and to make it worth everyone’s time it’s going to take a chunk of time out of your diary. On-demand learning can present its content in short, sharp hits that are optimal for gaining the full attention of the learner, known as micro-learning. By using short-term-focused strategies designed for skill-based understanding, micro-learning can help to engage students. It is shown to improve not only the retention of concepts but the understanding of how to transfer concepts to the workplace.

Focused information

As our attention spans shrink, we get more choosy about what we focus on. Sifting the wheat from the chaff becomes important. If an e-learning course can deliver a pin-sharp focus, with a beneficial learning outcome, it will get the learner’s attention and cut through the noise.

Personalised learning

When sitting in a training room, all the students receive the same material. They have little control about what information they receive, or how the experience is delivered to them. Choose online learning, and they can pick the modules that are relevant to them, the order they want to experience them, and how they want to consume them. This ability to personalise the experience gives people ownership over their own education.

How to choose your eLearning

So it’s clear that a short attention span need not be a barrier to online learning. The next step is to pick your course. To maximise the benefits, look for ones that that are designed in a way to appeal to the way our minds work such as:-

  • Clear, focused messaging
  • A great user experience
  • Ease of navigation
  • Presented in an engaging way
  • Uses rich media such as video


What are your experiences of online learning? We’d love to hear your thoughts.