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How do today’s shorter attention spans affect learning?

You’ve heard that attention spans are getting shorter. You may have even seen some research, like these statistics which suggest that our attention spans are now shorter than that of a goldfish.

While there are other reports disputing claims that our attention spans are getting shorter (and subsequently, that goldfish have a greater capacity for learning than largely believed), what is absolutely true is that there are more demands for our attention than ever before.

It’s by design that the popular TEDx talks are kept to an 18-minute time frame. They know that we’re likely to stay engaged through the whole presentation. Now, whether or not this has anything to do with our shrinking attention span, or the possibility that our brains have always been wired this way, one thing is for sure – the pace we run at combined with the constant barrage of information coming at us suggests that we’ve developed a preference for, and come to expect, shorter, faster messages.

How does this affect corporate learning?


As we think about how our constant distractions and shorter attention spans are affecting the corporate environment, we first need to look at what’s going on within our workplaces. Firstly, it’s not only teenagers and millennials who are addicted to smartphones and social media alerts. This spans all generations. Secondly, our workplace technology has vastly changed.

Employees now juggle inbound messages on their laptops from their email, instant messaging service and group messaging apps like Slack and Jostle, all while checking their smartphones for social media updates and personal emails. Even companies that use project management software to track employee projects and engagement will find their employees distracted by notifications and digital content. What’s more is that employee days are still filled with meetings and demanding deadlines, and yes, the actual phone still rings.

When it comes to corporate learning, it’s no wonder that once an employee gets to a live class or sits down to an e-learning platform they quickly lose focus if the course is too long or the material too dense and drawn out. They’re used to being distracted, and they’ve come to anticipate an interruption. When it doesn’t come, their mind begins to wander away from the material being taught and back to the other demands on their time.

What happens is that the student doesn’t effectively learn and retain the material. Necessary learning is lost, time and money are wasted, and both instructor and employee walk away feeling frustrated.

How do we tailor learning management systems to work with shorter attention spans?

Surely there has to be a better solution than charging forward as usual, hoping something will change? Yes, there is. One of the advantages of a shorter attention span is that people have become used to learning things in a very short amount of time – meaning that they can focus on something being taught quickly and absorb it immediately. The key here being that the subject needs to be taught quickly and get to the point right away.

Learning management systems (LMS) are one of the best solutions a company can incorporate as it empowers them to deliver training in ways that keep their employees engaged. Critical training elements can be conveyed in smaller doses, also known as microlearning, and can be accessed anywhere, anytime via laptop, tablet, and mobile devices. Microlearning includes familiar things like blogs, games, quizzes, podcasts, simulations and videos. Not only is this e-learning format more convenient, it gives employees more control over their time and their learning experience.

Microlearning is a win-win for both employer and employee alike. Through a robust LMS platform, microlearning can be developed quickly and at a lower cost than a more traditional training environment. It can also be accessed outside of critical business hours, another benefit for both employee and manager.

Whether or not our attention spans are shrinking, the plea for our attention is real. To help our employees access critical learning while balancing the other demands on their time, we can meet them where they are by designing a more efficient and convenient training through a microlearning delivery system – and that all starts with a flexible learning management system.

This is a guest post by Jessica Barrett Halcom, a writer for, with specialisations in human resources, healthcare and transportation. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and currently lives in Nashville, TN.

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